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REPEAT PERFORMANCE: THE ART OF CATHERINE SULLIVAN

"You should not drink from the dish, but with a spoon as is proper.” So reads a line from a fifteenth-century German book of manners, as cited by Norbert Elias in his classic sociological study The Civilizing Process. But if the spoon figures relatively early in etiquette literature, its use was not widely adopted until the mid-sixteenth century and, even then, only for eating from a communal bowl. The spoon (and the forces of civilization that it represents) comes late as well into the life of Helen Keller, a pivotal figure in the work of Los Angeles–based artist Catherine Sullivan. Keller learned mealtime conduct not from a text but from her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who placed a spoon in the hand of her deaf, blind, and unruly pupil and repeatedly and forcefully guided it from plate to mouth. This dramatic encounter and others like it are the raw material from which Sullivan creates the

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