Gary Justis

Gary Justis
Bloomington, Illinois, US
April 04
Gary Justis has worked primarily in the area of kinetic sculpture for the last 34 years. He lived and worked in Chicago from 1977 to 1999. He currently resides in Bloomington Illinois, where he teaches and writes stories about his actual experiences. (please take a look at his "Sculpture" link for more info)


FEBRUARY 20, 2012 10:03AM

Body Powers

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Foundry 2  copy

Waiting for things to heat up in our foundry can sometimes inspire body language that suggests ancient geometries, or architectural edifices.                                       photo by Nancy Fewkes



I have always believed in the power of body language to transmit information back to one’s self. I have heard historians say the open hand gesture, or waving, is endemic to every culture, originally showing a person is not holding a weapon. I think it is more likely our ancestors were holding their hands high, saying to themselves, “Dang, that’s a nice looking arm holding up my hand! I hope they are seeing this!”


In the course of a day, body motion, divided into its myriad parts, includes the movement of our limbs, down to the flow of blood and the undulations of our colon. Sensitivity is the key… stimuli from the environment will sometimes cause involuntary movement, making things known first to one’s self, then, in some cases, to others. The collected parts of a single body, in a single day, moves on average 1,100 miles. That’s a lot of information for someone to think about, and out of that comes the complex patterns of new languages.


I used to marvel at my dad’s body language when he hit his thumb with a hammer. I would imitate his spontaneous dance. I didn’t immediately understand he wasn’t dancing for me. Reading the language of his face for a few seconds, I knew I had triggered an anger response. Being young and inexperienced, I took this as a sign to dance harder, clinching my eyes shut. Then I felt the force of his body language across the back of my head…


Thinking about sensitivity the other day, I remembered an ancient fairy tale where some princess could not sleep because there was a pea under a bunch of mattresses. It was some kind of test of her sensitivity. This seemed barely plausible to me, especially when most peas were not refrigerated before the 20th century and it would have squished flat under all those heavy horsehair mattresses.


I think it was probably pee, not a pea…I have tried to sleep on a mattress with pee on it. Believe me, it’s nearly impossible. Regardless, that’s something to think about…sharing similar body language experience with a princess…now I understand…powerful stuff...





Some examples of Early 20th Century Body Language...



Victorian crossgender copy 

This young man realizes, at the moment the photographer takes this photo, that his choice of attire (taken on a dare) might not be the right way to be remembered for posterity in his college portrait.


  Headache2 a

Historically, people have used unusual props as an important component of their body language. This picture seems to shout, “Man! I have a massive headache. I hope the photographer is getting this."


...with a stark example of contemporary Body Language 
peeping 2 
A heartening demonstration by a concerned neighbor screams,
“I hope you guys are behaving in there"
  Peeping 1
 "Oh My!"




A shorter version of this piece originally appeared in The Basement



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Very fun and informative. I too am a big body language buff. Hence why I love photography so much. It often tells the real story. I take lots of photos of myself to see how I'm doing! Yes, we're constantly making thousands of micro-movements. All mean something; I want to get closer to you, I don't believe you, what you're saying is bothering me, etc.

Is that really a man in the 2nd photo? I seem to read a "Come on, already. Have some mercy on me. I'm done!" Especially those deflated shoulders.
Gary ~ thanks for the interesting post today and the first photo definitely is a reminder of earlier societies and their illustrations of humans! I have some photos from the glass department at school showing the type of angles students had to get into when shaping molten glass just pulled from the kiln.

I did a double take on photo #2 and the face reminds me a bit of Curly from the Three Stooges in a humorous pose!
No time to leave a intelligent comment... But I enjoyed passing thru, both the wording and the "language."
I've always thought it was a dried pea the princess felt.

I always study the body language of my ancestors for clues. Fascinating clues.
Gary, if you do not have one, go purchase and play with a Slinky! Talk about the motion of the hands and arms with one of those---it is a language that goes all the way into your nerves into your brain and eyes and, if you're lucky, it bends the way you "tell" time!
I agree with Buffy; it was a dried pea. But still. . . Then there's the question of whether or not you would sleep on dried pee. I added words to my vocabulary when dad hit his thumb with his hammer.
Oh, my, indeed. Princess and the pee. Makes sense to me!
Thanks Beth, my typing body language right now is divided between delicious snacks and the keyboard…..Oooops! a spill…time to dance….
She/he could be either or neither.

Hello John, Curly works for me 100 years removed…
Thanks for the visit!

Vivian, Thanks for reading…come on back when you get a moment!

Buffy, maybe dried, but certainly not freeze-dried….that would have crumbled.
You know, now that I think of it, it could have been the letter “P” which might why she couldn’t sleep, knowing her least favorite font was just 39 mattresses below…..

Amy, that’s a nice thing to say….thanks for the visit.

Hello Mary, It does go into the brain, try doing the motion w/out the slinky…I used to do the motion in my sleep when I was a kid, until my brother started taping church fans to my hands while I was unconscious…..

John Bayerl, the question is, was it dried before placement? If not, it would have been a “dried flat pea.”
Yes, Dad always added to our vocabularies too!

Matt, as I think about it…as I said to Buffy, I think it was the letter “P”. I knew a typographer who was very particular about font styles, and definitely a princess…
Your musings and images go well together. Nicely done.
What a delightful post and remembrance of a favorite childhood fairytale. Love "Princess and the Pea!" I couldn't ever imagi
How could it be...
she could feel that pea?
Makes me wanna pee!"
Do set her free.
Your post does bring the silly out of me!
Fascinating Gary. makes me want to go back and look at old ancestor pictures to see what they are really saying!
Stacey, hello, I need to catch up w you in the worst way. Sorry to be such an insufferable slug. Thanks for reading.

Cathy, we are silly together here. I’m still trying to figure out why I wrote this. I think it is a rather aggressive attack of silliness.

Hello trilogy! I’ll bet they are saying, “Remember me!” across the decades.
Thanks for coming over
What cool photographs. My cousin William (Bill James) sent a Family Archive of our James Family side.
I shared one with similar dress style.
It was on a old blog ref a sad day.
I always become heartfelt tearful.
This is true about motel comforters.
Scientist studied those flea-bit inns.

(I guess I'll never stay in a motel`gin)

There were over 450 different sperm drips.
Gross . . .
I read that in Sherman Alexie's book -
The Toughest Indian in The World -

'The New Yorker' selected it as great.

They wrote it about the author though.

They wrote nothing about cheap motels.
I was in a cheap inn and called the desk.
I complained . . .
"Hay. I got a leak in the sink." Response?

"That's okay. Go right ahead and take a leak."
silly can be great if not at funerals.
I think You're sensitive and ache.

I love when britches get kicked off.
I've lost weight and trousers fall off.
I have been a fan of kenneth snelson, he coined the term tensegrity and was the grad student who helped buckminster fuller realize geodesics. Behind all his lines, is immense movement, held tight, with rhythm and form, kinetic expression held in one moment.
Eventually, he branched into physics, but they wouldn't have him. He tried to move back to art, but they wouldn't have him either. He must have chosen the wrong outfit and prop to pose with.
I believe in body language, and consider myself a fair expert at deciphering members of the general public, then I see photographs of myself and think -- Wait, that's not what I was feeling at all! Those damn cameras!
Love this and esp love the Big rock image. Your Dads hit my thumb with the hammer dance must have been interesting. I cam almost remember doing that.
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Peace and ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥Have a Fine ART Day ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥ (ツ)
i laughed all the way through this, pausing briefly to frown at the mention of the colon, but then plunging ahead. ahem. interesting and funny - and including a photo of you pretending to be mr. robato? don't know any princesses but i'll take your word for being able to relate to one's dilemma. and that's a *guy* in the college portrait? are you sure? i'd put money on it being a female. but then i thought his/her hat was a thin pizza. tee hee, gary.
Hello Art, I know a Bill James in Chicago… British, he’s an architect.
I know about kicking one’s britches up onto the ceiling fan…It’s fun to see the change fly from the pockets….”Wall Tingles.”

Oryoki, Snelson was a brilliant sculptor. The great sculptors who matter admired him. Us students certainly did. I know part of what he dealt with…Many sculptors don’t accept me either…A wardrobe mistake can make one a pariah in the art world…or at least it used to.

Bellwether, You’re right…”..damn the cameras, full speed ahead!!!”

Algis, he would mostly get mad about missing a tool and throw things. I would be amazed ho he would get injured and keep working…..

Hello Candace, I am not certain about the sex of the subject, but for fictional and comic effect, it could be Elizabeth Bonum Carter and I would make the joke (well, maybe Laura Dern instead). I have known a few princesses, mostly in college. Most of them married well, had tons of kids, then led lives of “quiet perspiration.”
Always fabulous, Gary . . . always fabulous . . . made me chuckle with each new image and caption . . .
Thank you Owl, great to see you always....
Thanks for the laugh, Gary. And this bit " The collected parts of a single body, in a single day, moves on average 1,100 miles." - really? Like, WOW! No one can ever again accuse me of doing nothing - I'll throw this line at them. What source do I use to back it up? R for fun.