Yucky Sam Petersen 1 Adelaide Festival. Josh Campton & Lorcan Hopper, Sophie Cassar, Makeda Duong, Sam Petersen, Elizabeth Reed, and Finnegan Shannon. Adelaide Contemporary Experimental, Lion Arts Centre. 28 Feb 2024


“People seeing me and yet pretending not to see.

The fear is palpable sometimes.
They fear me because I’m yucky.
Yeah, drooling and weeing all over the place.
Like you ables don’t.”

excerpt from Fear by Sam Petersen

Yucky Sam Petersen 2Yucky is a powerful and confronting group exhibition at Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (ACE) gallery that shows how people with disabilities are often excluded and made to feel like second-class citizens. They are made to feel yucky.


Initiated and developed by artist Sam Petersen in cooperation with ACE, the exhibition brings to light the stigma, isolation, neglect and even violence experienced by disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent people. Most importantly, this exhibition gives those people a voice.


A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Petersen is a visual artist, writer and performer who uses an electronic device to communicate and requires a powered wheelchair.


Petersen’s contribution to the exhibition is Drool Fountain in which a life-size cut-out photo of the artist is suspended from the ceiling. A thin stream of ‘saliva’ (glycerine is used) slowly trickles to the gallery floor from Petersen’s mouth, forming a puddle on the floor.


Petersen’s work reminds viewers of the reaction of disgust that many feel when encountering disabled people who are unable to control their bodily functions. The positioning of the image of the artist suggests that our reactions are being observed.


Yucky Sam Petersen 3Elizabeth Reed’s contribution to the exhibition is quite horrifying. Reed is a deaf person and is an advocate for, and teacher of the deaf. Her work takes the form of a video in which a presenter discusses ‘bimarcosectomy’, a fictional medical procedure in which the hands of deaf infants would be amputated to prevent them from learning sign language. Instead, they would receive cochlear implants and would learn to speak in the manner of able people — to be more like the abled.

 Yucky Sam Petersen 4

Fortunately, such a procedure does not exist and hopefully never will, but Reed’s point is that deaf people are often discouraged from using sign language and can be severely affected by the way in which they are treated.


Reed’s exhibit also includes small ceramic works chillingly depicting amputated infants’ hands, placed in a surgical dish.


This work highlights generally the kinds of inappropriate medical interventions to which people with disability are subjected, and their loss of agency in determining their treatment.


Yucky Sam Petersen 5Finnegan Shannon and Sam Peterson collaborated to produce Do You Want Us Here or Not? (ACE), a bench on which viewers are invited to sit and which refers to the inadequacy of seating in museums and galleries that are designed by the abled for the abled.


Sophie Cassar’s exhibit comprises a series of photos showing a person’s foot, including their shoe, being encased in plaster. Cassar’s work refers to abasiophilia, a fetish that involves a psychosexual attraction to people with impaired mobility who use orthopaedic aids, crutches or wheelchairs.


Yucky Sam Petersen 6The photos portray the role-playing associated with the fetish to illuminate the power relations between the abled and disabled. The fetish may itself be seen as a form of disability, while the participants may be abled.


Makeda Duong’s The Real Thing comprises a pullover adorned with song lyrics that reflect her experience with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is an invisible disability and wearing such a garment would signal the wearer’s feelings to onlookers. It also vividly expresses the wearer’s feelings — their heart is worn on their sleeve.


The diverse works in this exhibition highlight the invisibility and powerlessness of disabled people and implicitly call for greater understanding and improved services and treatment that is developed in consultation with the individual concerned. Sam Petersen also participated in the Adelaide Festival talk, Diverse Expressions: Dialogues on Creativity and Disability, delivering a ‘rant’ that pointedly drew attention to the inadequacy of care by registered carers and their often dismissive attitude to those whom they care for.


Yucky Sam Petersen 7As Creative Australia has noted, artists with disability are underrepresented, earn less and face all kinds of obstacles. While this exhibition is primarily concerned with portraying to the abled the experience of being disabled, it also demonstrates the capacity of disabled artists to challenge ableist norms and attitudes. This excellent exhibition includes a reading room providing extensive information in print and in electronic form on disability and the care of the disabled, so that viewers can explore these issues further.


Yucky Sam Petersen 8Yucky obliges viewers to think about what it would be like to be disabled. It is confronting and will perhaps be shocking to some viewers, but it is a vitally important exhibition in raising awareness of the situation of people with disabilities and in bringing the abled and disabled together. ACE is to be thanked for taking on such an important project.


Chris Reid


When: 17 Feb to 4 May
Where: ACE Gallery, Lion Arts Precinct

Bookings: Free