Lauren Argo thought she was unlike the artists who work at Latitude Artist Community, a non-profit organization that provides studio space and community arts programming for people with disabilities.
Then she broke her collarbone, and life changed dramatically. Ordinary events, such as taking a shower, suddenly became obstacles for Argo, an actress who relies on her body to be the instrument of her creative work.
She learned lessons while struggling with the physical impediments and pain of her injury, and she channeled them into her artistic work.
She is teaching a workshop, The Body Project, at Latitude and will share a performance-art piece based on the workshop Friday night.
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The performance is part of Latitude's Gallery Hop lineup, Works in Progress, which features several ongoing Latitude projects as a way to welcome the public to its new spot, in the burgeoning Distillery District.
With spacious, curved walls, an outdoor courtyard and the dance studio Mecca for a neighbor, Latitude's new location is better suited to serve its needs than any of its previous locations. Latitude co-owner Bruce Burris says he hopes performance art will become a staple of programming at the venue, which is open to the entire community.
"There's space within our new Latitude space to create performance and theater," Burris says, "so that is one of the things that we're really wanting to explore and why we have Lauren Argo coming to kick things off. It's a symbolic way to suggest to people that we are going to be more involved in performance art and theater."
Burris sees performance art, which often involves audience participation and routinely breaks conventional theater's "fourth wall," as a way to connect to even more people while pioneering a new area of programming.
"There's nothing better for an artist than to get there first," Burris says, "and when you have that opportunity, it's a great thing. When you're working with people with disabilities, so much the better."
Lexington has several traditional theater groups, but performance-art events are rare. Burris says he hopes that fostering the genre will appeal to everyone.
"Part of our mission is to always try to eliminate fissures between people who are considered to have disabilities and those of us who aren't at the moment," Burris says.
His phrasing is telling. One's perception of being abled or disabled can change suddenly, as Argo learned after her November accident.
"I thought there was quite a difference between myself and the artists at Latitude," she says. "And then, I was injured in a matter of seconds and became handicapped myself.
"Everyday obstacles became overwhelming feats," she says, "but even at my lowest, I knew this was something I wanted to express in my art."
A Louisville resident, Cynthiana native and University of Kentucky graduate, Argo, 30, has focused much of her previous work on the human body. She might be best known for living inside a storefront window at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville for 21 days in 2006. More recently, she starred in and co-wrote Fabric, Flames and Fervor: Girls of the Triangle, about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, at Looking for Lillith Theatre Company in Louisville.
This is her first project that will explore disability.
"A lot of my work has involved the body in some way, mainly focusing on the aspect of what makes a body beautiful or desirable or perfect in our society and what our society is telling us that body should look like," she says.
"The opposite spectrum of that are the defects of our society and people with disabilities and people that are different in some way.
"I have experienced how that stigma has been put on myself, and so now I'm seeing both sides of that spectrum. Whether you were born with a disability or acquired it in your lifetime — and maybe it's a sickness or emotional — but we're all susceptible to that."
Argo's project centers on the concept of the "breaking point," the moment of becoming or realizing you are different. She hopes to reflect on the wider ramifications of her experience, exploring what it is to be broken and suffering in one form or another, and how quickly that can happen.
"That breaking point could be a bone breaking or the moment a relationship ends, or a life ends — the last breath, the final close of the eyes."