During my time at Tempting Failure, as well as performing I was fortunate enough to be invited to write about the performances alongside other artists and also David LaGaccia of Incident Magazine.
I wrote my responses to the work of Sue Fox, Helena Goldwater, Jin Bells and also Robert Hesp. For Robert Hesp’s piece I also participated in the work, ‘Bathe’ in which I took a bath in front of an audience for 15 minutes; so my written response is from the eyes of the viewer and the participant. (Please click links above to read my responses / reflections on the work.)
Being in the position of writer for these performances was a fantastic experience, but I did feel the pressure of knowing my words would be made public. It is a strange thing to write reflectively for public consumption; and I suppose each response is personal to me, so there is a chance that I completely misread the work! That was a concern for me….that the artist would read the review and feel like I have written about an alien work. But I suppose each artist is aware that when they hand their work over to the view of ‘the other’ that it will become a subjective experience, personal to the viewer. I suppose this is one of the exciting things about when you make art…it takes on a life of it’s own when it leaves your hands or body. In fact, it takes on lives of it’s own. It becomes multi-dimensional in the different perspectives through which it is seen. Those different perceptions are something that the artist has little to no control over. It is like some sort of child that is birthed into the world and then takes on a life outside the grasp of the artist, (well, that is the case for the work that makes it beyond the artist’s studio and into the gaze of others!).
I need to remind myself of these points, as an artist, as a lover of art and also as a writer! The artist doesn’t necessarily ‘own’ the art or even the ideas surrounding it… the artist births it, facilitates it’s journey into the world, shapes it. The artist is a point of connection of experiences and thoughts. The artist makes connections between these experiences and thoughts and then places the outcomes into the world, which then continues the cycle of new connections. The artist is the alchemist.
16000:2 TEETH(OF)MY CHILDREN was my second performance at Tempting Failure and the performance I had prepared for as I had known about it further in advance than the first performance. I have previously mentioned the development behind this work, but will briefly recap.
I decided that I wanted to work with my children’s milk teeth as a material. I am fascinated with the notion that these teeth came into existence inside my body. They left me inside my children’s body and then as they left their gums, they returned to me under the guise of the tooth fairy. It was my intention for this action to question, where does the mother’s body end? I am fascinated with the body as a site that is autonomous and also a site of creation; that all bodies regenerate and create new cells, and that my body grew other bodies inside it. This still seems mysterious to me despite the fact that I have lived through it.
So, for this performance I laid out the ephemeral traces from the previous action. I wanted to hold the memory and the energy of the past experience within the space; to trigger the memory in any people who had witnessed the first performance. I wanted to feel like I was just continuing an exploration, opposed to starting a brand new work, and I felt that the materials really were the key to the continuation.
I stood next to the pile and one by one I dropped single sheets of paper to the floor. As they floated to the floor they landed randomly. I had no control as they floated through the space. This action allowed the paper to be active in the space. It made visible the boundary between me and the audience. There were also moments where the paper would bounce off the body of a person. This physical contact, for me, created a connection between me and the audience. I wanted them close. I wanted it to be an intimate sharing, opposed to a showing. Eventually the floor was scattered with sheets of paper, overlapping but also some with gaps between.
I then reached again into my vagina and pulled out a glass vial containing 10 of my children’s teeth. For me this was the only way that seemed appropriate for them to enter the space. I wanted to make it clear that they were not my teeth from my mouth, but the teeth from my children, from my womb. This knowledge would activate associations and meanings in the action that would follow. This was important to me. Kneeling on the floor, I held the teeth in my palm and I held them out for the audience to see. These teeth felt like incredibly powerful, emotive artefacts to me. Maybe it was because I had been away from the children for a week by this time, and I was missing them? As a material they really did seem so heavily loaded. I was so deeply connected to them.
I held the teeth in my left hand, and held it outstretched. I took the the one by one and pushed as hard as I could the sharp edge of the teeth into my skin. I felt that I wanted to return them to my body. I wanted my arm to engulf them. The pain that came as they pierced the skin seemed to root me, to ground me in the moment. My arm felt heavy as I held it against the force and I pushed the tooth into the skin. I leap frogged the teeth up my arm, like a game. Such a childlike action against the cutting of the skin felt odd. Like the duality of light and dark manifested in one simple playful action. As I moved up my arm, across my chest and down my other arm, the odd tooth would loosen itself and fall to the floor. When I got to the wrist of the right arm only one tooth was left imbedded into my wrist. I held my arm at a right angle to my body and tried to hold it up until the tooth fell to the floor. It wouldn’t let go and there was this real sense of tension as I wanted to commit to the action, but my arm felt too heavy, to painful to outlast the grip of the tooth.
Photo Credit: Julia Bauer.
Work supported by Tempting Failure CIC and Arts Council England.
My arm shook violently and I was taken back to my experience at Thomas John Bacon’s masterclass a few months ago. Here I was, reaching the limit of my body in this action. I wanted to show the vulnerability that comes through failure. I wanted my struggle to be seen. This wasn’t a forced struggle but a real experience. The tooth that wouldn’t let go seemed like such a powerful metaphor, especially within the context of parenthood. Eventually my arm dropped to my side. I intended that I would mark every tooth that landed on a sheet of paper with a fingerprint of menstrual fluid from the previous performance, using saliva on my finger to wet it like paint. As the tooth on my wrist outlasted me, I marked my arm where it gripped. For all the teeth that landed in the gaps, they were returned to the cycle and it would keep going until all the teeth were captured upon the stark white sheets.
For me this performance felt so different to the previous one. There was less space in my mind for thought, as I had no choice but to be in the action because of the challenges that came with the action. This is by no means a negative thing, in fact I feel that it was a hugely affective and powerful experience. I was struggling with my body, showing it’s limits and it’s struggle. I was vulnerable and I was using a heavily loaded and emotive material. Based on conversations with people who witnessed the performance I learnt that these elements meant that people felt a strong connection to the action. There was an empathic connection, which in my mind is a marker for success in a work. The things I learnt at TJ Bacon’s masterclass really have stuck with me, and were clearly evident for me in this work and all other durational works I have done since. I feel like his influence has helped me realise why I am interested in these physical boundaries, and the difficulties that come with endurance and duration. The notion of surrendering to the action which I learnt at the masterclass really is, for me, the epitome of action based performance opposed to theatrical performance. For me, my experience was real; there was no veil, no act, no exaggeration. I opened myself up, I struggled with my body and I shared it with an audience. This was such a powerful affective moment.
The emotions built throughout form me and when it came to the end of the action I struggled to contain them. I felt like I needed to expel some of this energy. That I couldn’t just keep it in. To mark this I pushed the stack of paper over covering the teeth and the traces. Burying the action and dispersing the energy. It was a release.
A month later my arm is still marked. Scarred in fact with the traces of one of the most powerful things I have experienced within my own art practice. I feel proud of these marks and I feel that the performance has continued through them. It is happening in my mind whenever I look at them.
Helena Sands, artist and Legacy Producer for Tempting Failure wrote a beautiful response to the performance which can be read here.
Tempting Failure has been an inspirational experience. I would like to publicly thank Helena for her response and also Thomas John Bacon for all of his support. Through his masterclass and the platform of Tempting Failure I feel like I have learnt so much. I have confronted my insecurities, and have developed confidence to know that my work has a place in the world; that I don’t need to justify it. The more I push myself and open myself up to my practice, the more I feel like myself. I can’t put this back in the box, there’s no turning back. For me, body based practice not only makes sense, it feels like my language. It is a part of me.
My first performance at Tempting Failure was ‘16000:1 OPENING’ and took place at Hackney Showrooms on the 25th July 2016. I was fortunate to be offered two slots to perform at the festival, and so I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to explore the stop/start aspect of 16000- the paper project that was initially planned for my MFA show. I thought it would be interesting for the performance to begin on one day, be interrupted and then continue a few days later. If I kept all the materials from the first performance in the second performance slot, would it feel like a continuation, or would it feel like two separate performances? I am really interested in the parameters of performance and duration; actually I don’t quite understand the parameters and so I suppose this work is an opportunity to confront, challenge and unpack my thoughts on the subject.
16000:1 OPENING was my first steps in this project, and I wanted to use it as an opportunity to connect with the stack in front of an audience, with all of the main focus points of my research over the past year in my mind. I thought about Paul Carter’s points that I discussed in my previous post, and I considered, what the focus point? What was urgent/important in this performance for me to keep in mind throughout? I suppose I was thinking about the abject body, and also specifically the female body which fills up with and releases life. It was serendipity that my menstrual cycle decided to alter and provide me with an unexpected period on the day of this unexpected performance, (I had initially been asked to perform only once, but an opportunity for a second performance presented itself days before the festival). Giving consideration to the fact that menstrual fluid had been a key material within my practice at the beginning of my MFA, I decided that I would embrace this unexpected presentation from my body and work with it.
I thought all day about how it felt to be in my body that day. My body felt full and bloated, the all to familiar experience of a period. I experienced the tension of cramp like sensations as my womb contracted in waves to expel the blood, mucus and uterine tissue that my body no longer needed. I thought about how this experience of body that creates, generates, grows and expels was a key fascination for me, but one that was censored or restricted within my experience of an art practice within an educational institution. I felt suffocated by the way that I had to keep all of what I wanted to explore in my practice inside until I leave the institution. The more I thought about it the more I felt like a Fois Gras Goose, full to overflowing with ideas, thought and actions that were deemed inappropriate. This image that it conjured up seemed to mirror how my womb felt that day…and I was about to enter a space where a release of this tension was possible. TF was a space where I could purge; where I could open myself up and release, but in a different way to before. Previously, when I had explored this work it had been in private, in isolation. Here I would be sharing my experience and offering forward for the contemplation of others. In the moments before performing, where I had anticipated that I would feel nervous and self conscious, I actually felt excited. Like a bottle of pop that had been shaken I could feel the energy build inside me and I was excited to let it spill out into the space.
Whilst it felt good to have this energy, I felt very conscious that I didn’t want to race through actions. I tried to maintain a focus and an intention in everything that I did. I tried to still my mind, to be completely present in each action. I was in such a vast space, and the actions I was doing were small, and so I felt that by pushing my focus and intention into each action they would become amplified in intensity.
I began by pacing around the stack in the silence. I took a slab of paper and threw it to the ground dispersing the tension in the air through sound. Crumpling up sheets of paper on the floor and pulling them into my open legs, whilst facing the stack, I thought about how I was building up a relationship with the paper. How this was the beginning of a two way relationship with my material. One by one, I then flattened and folded each one of these sheets, rolling and placing them in my mouth until I could not fit anymore in. As I kneeled in the space with my jaw open wide and my gag reflex kicking in, I thought about how this felt like a physical manifestation of that censoring of my body that I spoke about previously. The interesting thing for me was that I was doing this to myself. As I contemplated that, I realised that a lot of the struggles I have had with my practice have been situations that I have put myself in. I have chosen to confront and push against this repression of the oozing body, just as I had chosen to fill my mouth to gagging point. As I removed the paper I felt a release. I felt like I had imbued the paper with my tension and with my angst, and as the paper was removed so was that feeling. I felt a release. I placed it nearby on top of the flattened paper that I hadn’t managed to fit into my mouth, still in sight, still sharing the space with me…but no longer an issue.
With that tension purged and released through that action, I felt that I could now open up and release what I could feel building within me, but what nobody else was aware of. Raised up onto my knees I reached into my vagina and pulled out a menstrual cup that was full. I placed a sheet of paper over the top and turned it over in a similar way that you would do with a plate over a jelly in it’s mould. As I lifted the cup the rich dark red blood spread itself across the paper. (Someone later talked to me how they entered the space halfway through and was wondering where I had hurt myself to produce so much blood. I liked how this point was raised and that it illustrates that the body can overflow and bleed beyond it’s boundaries without any violent action. That it happens silently for all women.) I ripped fragments of paper, dipped them into the blood and placed them over the stretch marks of my body that came through pregnancy. The blood created marks similar to the patterns within the body. As the smell of my menstrual fluid filled the air around me I felt empowered by my incredible female body. This isn’t the body of a size 8 tight toned model that you see so often portrayed in our visual culture. This is the body of a woman who was once size 8, tight, pert and youthful, but has since grown and birthed life. It has produced milk and fed babies. It has been worn down and tired… but it is still strong, still working and still fertile. It is still constantly in a cycle connected with the moon and the tides; and surely, the body that grows, regenerates, produces and lives is a thing of beauty and a thing of wonder, that is still relevant to discuss and consider through science, philosophy and art? For me the body is the paint and clay of my practice, and it is paint and clay that everyone can connect to.
Photo credit: Julia Bauer
Work supported by Tempting Failure CIC and Arts Council England.
Tempting Failure CIC 2016. 21st-29th July. London.
I attended Tempting Failure for the almost the full duration of the festival, only missing day 1 . I performed on 25th and 28th at Hackney showrooms. I was also able to immerse myself in the rest of the program and I found it to be a strange, but wonderful experience. This was the first time that I had attended a performance festival, (I have to keep reminding myself that I am still very new to this world!) and I found the experience to be so incredibly valuable in many many aspects. I learnt so so much. By looking at the work others I was able to understand my own feelings / thoughts about performance so much better than before. It has, (and still is) taken me a while to be able to begin to process the experience. I just felt like I needed time and space to let the dust settle before I could sit and sift through my reflections. I think it is because my head was so full that it almost became blocked….to the point where I didn’t know truly what I felt about anything. Having time and space has meant that I have been able to reflect without the intense emotional residue of witnessing so many intense experiences.
So, now to begin sifting… sorting… reflecting. I intend on publishing reflections on TF in several blog posts opposed to trying to fit it in to one lengthy post. There are so many elements to my experience which have impacted my research on performance that I want to give each one space to be considered and digested.
For me the experience of the performance festival reached further than the boundaries of the festival itself. I stayed at Poppy Jackson and Alicia Raddage’s house- the house where I had stayed and experienced Poppy’s transformational workshop a few months back. That house holds so many intense memories for me. Memories of releasing my inhibitions and embracing my passion for using my body in my work. That workshop cemented so many of my thoughts… and also introduced so many new ones. Needless to say that space is an important one for me. It is filled with rich creative energy. It felt good to be back there! There were other incredible guests such as Esther Neff who also performed at the festival, David LaGaccia of Incident Mag New York who was covering the written reviews of the festival, Lisa Stertz who was also writing alongside myself and a few other artists for David’s publication, and Zeirle and Carter who were also staying for the first half of the week. I found it to be an enriching environment where so much was discussed and shared. I can’t help but feel that sharing experiences and discussions is the strongest learning tool there is.
I was fortunate enough to share many conversations with Paul Carter on our journey home every night. We discussed so many elements in relation to performance, and I found his input to be incredibly valuable. Zeirle and Carter have had an incredible continuous career since completing their degree 10 years ago. They come from a fine art background and so I really related to the way that Paul spoke about how sculpture, performance and drawing not being as separate as their titles suggest. I feel so strongly about this, and the limitations of titles and the language of the art world. It felt so good to be able to really dissect this in conversation with Paul. He gave me some incredible advice with regards to going into a performance and how to prepare. He spoke to me about how it is always good to ask yourself, ‘What is the key core idea that is the most important thing that is present in this performance? What is urgent? What HAS to be there for this performance to exist?’ I have often thought about core concepts, but in a slightly different way. For me I always saw them as a sort of lens that I look at the world through. That they are core to me and that they inform my thinking. By slightly shifting that and questioning what is the most urgent aspect of the performance that needs to be communicated gives clarity and focus in the performance. Going into my first performance I really strongly kept this in mind going into the action. I focussed and channeled what I felt was urgent into my actions and I found that it helped me to keep the intention present within the action consistently. In fact this notion of urgency and what is compulsory has been in my mind when working in my practice since. I am so thankful to both Paul Carter and Alexander Zeirle for all of the conversation and encouragement and support that they offered during their time at the house. I feel that the conversations we had helped me to gain a level of clarity in my practice which I had felt I had lost.
I think MFA and constant questioning and challenging of my practice has meant that I have become uncertain. I initially felt that this uncertainty was a negative thing, when in fact uncertainty isn’t always bad. I realise that a degree of uncertainty means that my practice has been moving forward into new and unexpected areas. I remember leaving my degree a year ago feeling so confident, like I knew my practice through and through. I have felt so uncertain through this past year, but I realise now that this is what true research feels like. True exploration is full of the unknown. If I were to know all the answers in my practice then there would be no discoveries… no development, just a safe place with only serves the purpose of massaging the part of my ego that likes to know everything! Carter’s notion of what is urgent and the reaffirming of the core concepts has meant that I have been thinking about those in relation to my practice. By asking myself these questions I have found an anchor for my practice. This means that I can branch out and test new ideas, but I will always have my anchor to root myself to. I imagine that this will mean that I will be able to feel secure in uncertainty whilst also managing to keep a sense of focus and intent in the actions I do. For me this is probably one of the most important tools for the artist whose practise is research based.
I am feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement as Tempting Failure 2016 is fast approaching. The festival runs from the 21st – 29th July and tickets are available here. My performance will be on the evening of the 28th July alongside Tim Bromage and Richard Herring at Hackney Showrooms.
I will be performing a new work titled:
16000:1 TEETH(OF)MY CHILDREN
I have decided to take the image of myself stood next to the stack of paper that I had originally intended for my MA Show and think about how I could take that idea forward. For me that is a powerful image, and I like the idea of using my body to process the paper / using the paper to document the body. The theme for this years Tempting Failure is ‘In Utero’ and so it seems like an appropriate time to bring a new project into the world. I will be taking the stack forward as a new project which will be explored through a series of performances. I like the idea of transporting a huge almost unmanageable stack of paper and performing with it for what will be an expansive period of time, potentially over a year intermittently. I will then collect, document and archive every interaction with the stack, so everything from the transporting and storing to the performative action itself. For me this brings into question, where does a performance begin or end? I don’t think performance solely exists for the period of time that the viewer is present. For example, when I have cut my skin, until it has healed it is still performing- even without any other witness than myself. I think putting these parameters in place will allow for me to learn through experimentation and challenge of what body and it’s materiality really does mean to me. Tempting Failure will mark the beginning of this long term project, which I hope to take to various venues in the future. The end of the project, I foresee, will be an exhibition the archive created through action. All traces and sheets of paper captured and accounted for. It will become a time capsule of an extended intermittent durational performance. It will capture time, body, memory and experience.
The action which I will explore at TF will involve my children’s teeth. I am fascinated with the notion that these teeth came into existence inside my body. They they left inside my children’s body and then as they left their gums, they returned to me under the guise of the tooth fairy. I intend for this action to bring into question, where does the mother’s body end? I am fascinated with the body as a site that is autonomous and also a site of creation; that all bodies regenerate and create new cells, and that my body grew other bodies inside it. This still seems mysterious to me despite the fact that I have lived through it.