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Chelsea Thompto

March 6 - 30, 2020


Productive Bodies explores questions of visualization as violence, technology in relation to the body, and western society’s conceptions and renderings of bodily boundaries. Trans as a theoretical and artistic gesture of moving across, beyond, and through is enacted through a sustained investigation of how fluid bodies are rendered as fixed through geographic and medical mappings and borders.


The Mississippi River, the river I grew up next to, has been subjected to the scrutiny of western technologies of seeing and modification with the goal of making it known and useful for western militaristic and economic development. Through these technologies, the river has become a highway, amusement park, food source, and more. Western modes of visualization have also been entangled with the concept and production of “transgender” as a category of disorder, medical research, social/political argumentation, and more. Through researching how these forces have come to shape our expectations of both the river and trans bodies, this project examines how modes of visualization may violently delimit the livable futures open to the bodies in question.



A transdisciplinary project, Productive Bodies includes archival research, procedurally generated audiovisual art installations, writings, presentations, artist books, and more in order to draw the viewer into an affective exploration of what it means to inhabit a fluid body mapped into fixed borders.



Chelsea Thompto is an artist living and working in Grand Rapids, MI and a Visiting Professor at Grand Valley State University in the Department of Visual and Media Art where she teaches new media and foundations art courses. She received an MFA in Art and an MA in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin Madison in May of 2019. 


Her practice is strongly rooted in her experience as a transwoman. Exploring gender identity, while a deeply personal process, is also an increasingly politicized act that informs her making. The prefix trans- is also a tactic and gesture she employs in her studio practice by moving ideas between and across materials and modes of working in order to explore form and concept. Within this transdisciplinary approach, she engages with a variety of media including but not limited to: sound, video, computer code, printmaking, digital fabricated objects, writing, photography, and bookbinding.

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