Body as art ~ reflective text
I'm a London-based performer who works with the body in a variety of contexts.
My work is influenced by ideas of the sublime and the grotesque, and also by circus, dance and sideshow, and theories of the Carnivalesque.
My primary interest is in the exploration of the human body, and responses to that artistic exploration, be it horror, awe, amazement or disgust.
Although I have been creating live art pieces for some time, I consider myself an emergent artist rather than someone who is established in their field, and for that reason I was both nervous and excited about the idea of working with an experienced and well-respected practitioner such as Michael, and with other participants who may be more advanced in their artistic practice than me.
I was also very eager to ask questions of the doctor we would be working with.
How much blood can I lose before I pass out?
What type of needle is best to use to access my own blood?
What will happen to me if I accidentally nick a vein when inserting flesh hooks subcutaneously?
These are questions which I have asked myself and those few I know who have some medical training or experience, and, having never managed to find a satisfactory answer to my queries, have either avoided or plunged blindly (and perhaps unsafely) into the new territory that I wished to explore.
I approached the workshop somewhat gingerly but was instantly felt welcomed into the group by Michael, Tuheen and a hot mug of coffee. As we introduced ourselves and described our histories whilst moulding our anatomies out of clay. I felt a sense of connection with the other participants that had, by the end of the week, turned into an ongoing support network that is being followed up with emails, online group meetings and discussions about the development of our respective practice post-Body as Art.
One of the aspects that I found most empowering within the Surgery was something that another participant Ria pointed out early on; that we do not have easy access to our own blood, without rending our flesh and damaging our bodies. There is a barrier between us and the fluid we carry inside, and the knowledge of how to extract is carried by those who will not, for the most part, share it with us (an idea that put me in mind of Foucault’s knowledge/power specialists in his 1975 book Discipline and Punish.)
In this sense, the work we were doing felt progressive not just in an artistic sense but also as part of a wider motion towards engaging with our bodies, and it was wonderful to be able to work with a doctor who is knowledgeable, compassionate and non-judgemental.
Another unexpected outcome of the discussions we had was a shift of perspective that came about when discussing working with our bodies. I realised that my body, this human body, is a remarkable and complex thing, and that perhaps I had not been caring for it in a way that reflected that; perhaps had even taken it somewhat for granted. With this epiphany in mind I resolved to become a more careful owner of my own flesh, to look after it and use it within the context of my art as a celebration of my body, rather than as a detached observer. While I still wish to progress with the exploration of my body and its capabilities I resolved to do so in a more nurturing way that took into account the long-term actions of my practice.
Something else I found interesting was how certain themes resurfaced throughout the week, some throughout the discussions had within the group, and some personal and spontaneous. With the opportunity to intensely focus on artistic process and practice, I found that the areas I was having trouble in presented themselves clearly, something I’ve found difficult to identify in the past.
I realised early on in the week that one area I wanted to explore, but had many deep-seated reservations about, was opening up my work to the audience, involving them as a part of the experience, and inviting audience members to become active participants rather than passive observers.
One-on-one conversations with Michael, and then later on with the larger group, helped me quickly identify that audience participation was something I was not comfortable with. Through working with my body, and the bodies of other performers when blood had been present, I had become very conscious of building an invisible but very deliberate wall, ostensibly for fear of bacteria being spread in non-sterile conditions and/or cross-contamination, but on a deeper level because of feelings of vulnerability should audience members trying to subvert or intrude too much upon the work. However, over the few short days that I spent with Michael and Tuheen, I underwent something of an epiphany and transformation, making my metamorphosis at the end of the week particularly significant for me.
On the third day I announced that I had come to the decision to relinquish control over my work and give it up completely to the audience.
Michael’s response - ‘ You need to always be in control of the work. Opening it up does not mean giving up control of the piece. You are the artist – you have that responsibility.’
From there on everything fell into place.
The idea of exchange and reciprocity started to formulate within my mind. I started thinking about the idea of a work that was controlled by the artist but dependant on the participation of audience members. I rigged up a system of pulleys made from elastic strings that, when plucked, went through a programme that amplified and distorted the sound, creating strange ambient music. I could not reach the strings myself – I was an instrument waiting to be picked up. The strings were soaked in blood that I had taken from myself. This created a physical relationship between the audience and myself.
For someone who was terrified of making the communication with the audience a two-way street, the task of opening up my practice to audience members as a participatory experience was a huge step forward in my artistic development.
‘I cannot make this work without you’ is the working title of this piece. It seems fitting because without the conditions under which this piece was created, I very much doubt I would have been able to produce something with the level of depth and potential that I feel this piece has.
Michael and Tuheen consistency supported, questioned, challenged and nurtured me throughout the process, something for which I feel I owe them both a great debt of gratitude.
I came to the Body in Art with no expectations and no idea how the week would pan out. I left with a consolidated idea of how I wanted to develop my practice, the bones of a new live art performance piece, and a wealth and depth of knowledge that would absolutely not have been accessible to me otherwise.
My knowledge of my body has increased and thusly my fears have diminished.
This experience has been an extremely formative one for me and has already proved extremely significant in my development as an artist.
I can't make this work with out you