Visualizing Active Bodies: Knowledge-Making in Visual Physical Culture

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Sterling, Jennifer
Andrews, David L
Within a "world replete with images and representations" (Haraway, 1997, p. 202), visual discourses play significant roles in the ways that bodies, and in particular active bodies, are organized, represented, and experienced in society. In physical culture, visualizing practices shape ways of seeing, and being seen, through the display, and interpretation of, active bodies in a wide variety of settings. Consequently, visual discourse in physical culture takes place, and makes meaning, through a range of visual events, texts, and technologies. To explore these sources and sites for their (re)production of differentiated social positions, I examine the visualization of (im)proper, (un)healthy, and physically (in)active bodies across multiple locations. These include: 1) the exhibition of heroic sporting portraiture in <italic>Champions</italic> at the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, DC); 2) the gross anatomy lessons of plastinated cadavers in the <italic>Body Worlds</italic> exhibition at the Maryland Science Center (Baltimore, MD); and, 3) my commemorative, yet critical, construction of <italic>Champions All</italic> as part of the <italic>Fear the Turtle Sculpture Project</italic> at the University of Maryland (College Park, MD). Broadly located within the theoretically fluid, interdisciplinary, and multi-method project that is physical cultural studies, I utilize visual discourse analysis and (auto)ethnographic methods to examine the role of visual discourse in physical culture. In particular, I examine each of the above visual events, and their visual and interpretive texts, for their "key themes, claims to truth, their complexities, and their silences" (Rose, 2007, p. 187). In understanding what positions are being constructed, and how they are advanced, challenged, or denied, my research reveals who is rendered (in)visible, and the consequences of such (in)visibilities. Extending empirical definitions of both the visual and the physical, this research illustrates the breadth of visual physical culture and its impacts; the productive nature of visual displays and their practices; and the knowledge-making, and thus world-making, contributions of the visualization of active bodies.