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If our tears are fake, if we cannot be seen, are we still human? In her experiments, Xu Han poses these and other questions about the mysteries and assumptions that lie somewhere near the core of our understanding about what it means to be a person. For “Cocooned” she lived inside a giant handknit body-stocking, emerging only after twenty-one days of drinking through straws, being unable to speak, not caring how she looked, having severely limited vision, and needing immense amounts of help. Does any of that make her less than human? It may ironically have made her more so, by certain measures. In “Five Facts About Tears,” Han tries out a quintet of devices that use or alter tears to produce speculative gestures about our ocular discharge. One employs tiny fans to create a cooling effect via evaporation; another collects the tears for sprinkling on fruit; a third fills goggles up with saltwater until vision is occluded. And so it goes—our pain and suffering, the causes of crying, do indeed alter how we feel, the way we see, our capacity for enjoyment. It is to Han’s credit that she has found novel objects through which to express these observations.

—Lori Waxman 2020-02-22 6:15 PM