The last week has been packed full of artist talks including an Introduction to Feminist Art by Helena Reckitt at the Frieze Academy and Marina Abramovic’s talk at The Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. I seemed to have taken a distinct interest in the female voice but what’s interesting is Helena is a writer and analyst of female artists and feminist art whilst Marina explores the physical and mental limits of her being using her body as both her subject and medium. I found Helena’s talk exciting and innovative but had never categorised feminism into waves of movement which is how she led and was able to categorise the mass of information to us as the audience. What was particularly interesting was how female artists are categorised by their gender and not their art work, they are instantly put into the box of ‘woman artist.’ This has become a continuous problem for woman artists and I’m not entirely sure if this is a problem for me personally. I don’t consider myself a true feminist and my work does not explore feminism; however I am a female artist, fact and have began to explore the body, materiality and performance in my current work. Therefore am I then becoming categorised? or am I categorizing myself as the woman as subject, the woman as object?
The body can become materially grounded and using my own body feels the most natural and organic choice of material in my current development of work. My experience on the residency led me to work with my body and re-visit sculptural processes that engage with a performative presence. When I started casting my nipples and belly button I questioned why in particular did I choose to work with these elements of the body; their familiarity was the pivotal focus, how they can be associated with both a male and female body. This then raises the question of gender binarism. The work I will be exhibiting as part of the residency is an exploration of the body and therefore are ‘body studies,’ the work is a study of my body.
During our discussion about the performance and the structure of the work we instantly came to the conclusion that this body of work emphasises a performative installation. I have been exploring a daily action and body fluid of urine on canvas, challenging the conceptions of the public and private exceptions. Over the last six weeks I have documented six urine actions walking directly across canvas but this has been done in a private setting of exploring a repetitive action and residue of traces. The artist and muse, this residency explores how I am the muse to my current work which then raises the question of how ‘the personal is political.’ This performance draws attention and focus to its associated key words; the action, gender, material and duration. After working directly in private, what became apparent was how I would transfer this work to the public and introduce a live action where my body is present but my mind becomes absent.
During the course of the last couple of weeks its been apparent that my work has become focused on the body as a subject and medium. The space felt fleshy and I began thinking about bodily fluids and what the space had previously been used for, the vast quantities of bodies that would have at some stage gathered in the space. Then I thought of urine, the artists urine and how I could document this bodily fluid? I had never previously addressed or engaged with performance art but began to wonder whether the work required a live action or process? And so the action of urinating on canvas, documenting the process and logging the dates and times of each singular urination; building up layer upon layer directly onto the canvas there is clear fragmentations of bodily traces, my bodily traces. Referring to Joseph Beuys’ Virgin Work Basic Room – wet laundry (1979) using a soap making process he explores the analogy for the stages of fetal development, the cyclical nature of feminine cleansing; therefore associating virginity and motherhood with cleanliness and impurity respectively.
How can I deliver a body of work in this space? If something is absurd, it’s much more exaggerated, more absurd if it’s repeated. (Eva Hesse) Thinking of repetition and multiple objects drew me back to the nipple and belly button castings; this absurd and exaggeration of the body that explores play but brings into focus the awkwardness. The work has progressed into a study of bodily components exploring the materiality of objects, the body and space documented as physical actions of enquiry. I choose to work with my body; taking castings of my nipples, belly button, collecting hair and syliva, and urinating on a sheet of canvas has evolved into an intense self collaboration. My body has become my primal material where I’ve repetitively exploited certain body parts (that could be associated with both male and female) to investigate those liminal qualities. There are various elements to this work; a blurring of object, fragmentation and representational study of the body, more precisely, my body. Again what comes into question is the juxtaposition between my use of organic and inorganic materials; wax and latex appear fleshy, undoubtedly portray fragments of skin whereas my use of urine is a direct fluid from my body explored through documented actions and a live performance of the action.
It’s interesting how a conversation can become advocated by forming a dialogue using domesticated objects that exist in our everyday surroundings (such as chairs). Play was the forefront purpose of these series of works representing and suggesting the body; using chairs, rope and filled balloons I’m creating various formations of coincidental drawings that intercept to create distinct, bold shadows. The focal element of this work is light; how I can manipulate and highlight the objects materiality and natural formation of lines. My use of the rope creates that unsettling tension wrapped and pulled along the chairs with a tied pair of balloons hanging in suspense. I view this work as sculptural objects where I can defined the physical and temporal relationship between viewer and object.
As part of Cardiff Contemporary this year me and Natalie Ramus were asked by CSAD to participate in ‘Cardiff’s Contemporaries’ where current and past students are exhibiting work at Morgan’s Arcade. On Saturday RAMUS|EVANS Collaborative which was formed in September 2015 presented GWAITH, a durational performance exploring the tension and support that comes with working relationships.
‘Contained within a confined space over a 6 hour period with minimal materials, repetitive actions will take RAMUS|EVANS on a journey through the ritual and madness of mundane labour. By taking the ritual of the workplace into the gallery they will ask the questions; When does the artist stop making art? And where does the performance end?’
Entering the space we found ourselves instantly uncomfortable, wearing very oversized blue boiler suits and black clumpy boots, calmly applying thick layers of red lipstick where we sat at our desk, our ‘work space.’ In the centre of the table lay 300 pink balloons, which would become our main material for the duration of the performance. The space became very surreal, unknown but calm and safe, and then the actions began. We started to blow up balloon after balloon allowing the air to carry them into the wider part of the space. What was particularly alluring about this space was access to the window; we began introducing the performance outside of the space by throwing balloons into the public view. Where does the performance end? During the course of the day, the actions became far more absurd and at times, sexual. There were times when balloons became a replica of a condom, slowly stretched over the legs of the table and chairs. We also began blowing balloons into small cavities, causing that instant tension and apprehension of whether the balloons would burst.
At times there was laughter, harsh and heavy breathing, complete silence for long periods of time and direct eye contact with Natalie and the audience. The durational aspect of the performance became a challenge, this was mainly due to lack of water, and the constant action of blowing up balloons. As time went on I became unaware of my surroundings and found myself repeating an action again and again without any awareness of how long this action had been performed. It was physically and mentally draining, the limitation of material became an apparent challenge. There were times when audience members stood for long periods of time, others walked directly amongst us and became apart of the work. An important element to the work was our frequent re application of red lipstick, we created this glamorous, feminine appearance that became juxtaposed with the grotesqueness and loss of ‘perfection’ when frequent contact with balloons smeared, and disrupted the application. A residue of red lipstick stained our hands and left a harsh lip stain on the balloons.
The destruction of the working space became apparent from the very beginning of the performance, chairs turned over and were discarded of. We found ourselves standing, leaning against walls and lying on the floor for the majority of our time in the space, testing our physical endurance. We slowly deconstructed the table, placing it upside down, pulling away its legs, and beginning a dialogue between space, body and object. The colour clash between the red lipstick and the pink balloons read as phallic, referencing gender and sexual qualities of genital areas (breasts, penis’) the playful but macabre aspect of the work became apparent . GWAITH became an extension of our practices, exploring the body, objects and traces of the artist; minimal objects, materials and our bodies collaboratively explored individual repetitive actions and traces.
Something that kept sticking in my mind was nipples, it’s such a peculiar, comical word but is the correct word but when we think of the word nipple; does a female or male spring to mind? I’ve began casting my nipples in pink wax which is a direct reference to their colour however what I’m curious to question is whether they could be considered or read as a female or male nipple? I am not making any claim that there is gender binarism or whether the female or male subject is a coherent being however with this particular work I find myself using my body but elements of the body that both female and male possess such as nipples, a belly button and urine. However as I am privately documenting myself urinating across a sheet of canvas whilst also introducing a live performance where I perform the action of urinating to a live audience, gender and the female body will of course become an instant reference point. With the urine work there is a dialogue conversing between the audience and body and the camera and body.
Researching Vito Acconci I found his series of works exploring the self and his body through a series of performances; particularly drawing an interest to the relationship of the private to the public. Acconci explored the archival capabilities of photography ‘camera as grasp, photo as storage’ (Vito Acconci) and the possibilities of physically seizing an image. I have always found that the body or reference to the body has appeared in my previous work but working (alone and privately) in this space over the last few weeks has led me to explore my own body and the possibilities of the body as a material; I find myself beginning to contemplate my own body as a gendered site.
Over the last week I have found myself casting multiples of wax nipples, cast after cast I created a production line of these objects but how many is required or even necessary? What’s interesting is how the nipple appears as a playful object yet references taboo. There is this repetition that appear with this work where I find myself repeating a process, an action; taking a direct casting off my nipple I find myself using my body as reference and not as the material, the material is the wax. They appear as sweets, the colour and size, also something you wish to play with, touch, possibly suck on. I envision a large pile of these nipples where there is an evident physical process visible due to the amount that will occupy part of a space. Will you loose the significance of the casting or the fact that is a casting of a nipple? Does this matter? Does the work then read as playful or awkward or both?