His work creates deliberate contrast between the lives of the physically or functionally different with those of young, healthy, able-bodied men and women.
Zmijewski's snapshots of human frailty present the viewer with an unsettling 'otherness' meant to lead us to question whether or not the boundaries of 'normal' life are real or even appropriate.
I had the chance to see Singing Lesson 2: 2003 for the first time at Chicago MOCA. In this short film, young children from Samuel Heinicke Schule, a German school for the profoundly deaf, sing cantatas by J.S. Bach. The children are accompanied by the Barockensemble der Fachrichtung Alte Musikorch in Leipzig, Germany, at St. Thomas Church. The same church where Bach was director of music and the place where the cantatas (No. 61, 78, and 147) were composed.
The result is a cacophony of human sound, but the children, released momentarily from society's expectations of what they can and cannot do, loved every minute of it. Because the children could neither hear their voices or control them them, the piece seems to address the musical and vocal limits of the profoundly deaf. But Zmijewski says,
"It is usually the case that able-bodied people accept disabled ones only if they make an effort to imitate the fit, hence the popularity of documentaries about artists painting with their feet or legless mountain climbers. But this is terror on the part of the normal - try hard to be like us and we'll pat you on the back - whereas it is hard as hell to really accept difference."