Terry Galloway

Hennepin Center for the Arts

Terry Galloway began her performance of an excerpt from Out All Night and Lost My Shoes, 1987–89, by bellowing, “I’m a Texan and am proud of it. Unfortunately, I share with most Texans a fatal flaw. I presume an intimacy—and most often, where there is none.” She delivered these lines while making her way through the crowd. Immediately, she challenged our sense of comfortable distance from her as a performer. By the time she had recounted her story about the circumstances of her birth (including the fact that her mother had been given an experimental drug during pregnancy, which ultimately induced Galloway’s clinical deafness), she had us on her side.

Galloway went on to describe how her exclusion from the hearing world increased over time, becoming complete around the time she reached the age of twelve. Her alienation in terms of deafness has actually been double. Having been “mainstreamed” in an oral tradition as a child—that is, taught to speak and read lips, as opposed to using sign language—she is not entirely accepted by the culturally deaf, who identify their culture, as do members of all cultures, by the use of their own specific language. And even though she can glean about 75 percent of the spoken word, she is profoundly hard of hearing, and therefore does not entirely fit into the hearing community either. She is, in her own words, cut off from both worlds.

The performer-audience relationship grew uncomfortable—effectively uncomfortable—as Galloway told further autobiographical tales in a manner that, although funny, accelerated toward an alienating hysteria. At the same time, she drew us into a bond that proved unbreakable. In her account of an angst-ridden trip to the Natural History Museum, she began an ascent to wild-eyed, earsplitting frenzy. She dramatically punctuated her poetic monologue with the line, “Art makes me feel serene, but this is madness.” Her “madness” landed her in a psychiatric hospital, where her participation in performance therapy was “a great hit with the schizophrenics.” Recreating one of these performances, she pulled a string mop over her right hand and and introduced a makeshift puppet called “Mr. Handchops.” She explained that Mr. Handchops could get a little crazy sometimes, requiring her to silence him by clobbering him with a hammer. She proceeded to do just that, culminating her hysterical outbreak with the deadpan remark: “Then they put me under heavy sedation.” When “they” asked if there were anything she was not afraid of, she replied, “Yes, art—like Mr. Handchops. . . . When I’m knocking the shit out of my hand . . . I don’t feel afraid. I figure if I can take that, I can take anything life can dish out.”

The hammering sequence constituted a loaded climax, suggesting a metaphor for the shattering of the hand that signs. The distance we were tempted to take from that sequence, and from the performance as a whole, symbolized the exclusion, or distance, Galloway has experienced. Paradoxically, some of this exclusion is a result of our inclusion, voluntary or involuntary, in the institutions that shape our lives. Galloway offered a visceral critique of the way these institutions try to harness and reformulate nature.

Kathy O’Dell