During Poppy Jacksons workshop we did an exercise that explored the mouth. I stood opposite Poppy for 5 mins with my fingers inside her mouth, and hers inside mine. We explored eachothers mouths; feeling the structure, the textures, listening to the sounds, exploring the size… It was an incredibly intense experience. At first it felt incredibly awkward, I was very self conscious of my mouth and my teeth. Were they clean?! Did my breath smell?! At first these sorts of trivial questions flooded through my mind, but it didn’t take long for me to become so immersed in Poppy’s mouth that all of my self conscious thoughts ebbed away.
I was amazed at how incredibly complex and fascinating the mouth was, and at the fact that I hadn’t really given it much attention before. It is such an interesting thing that is used in so many ways. It can be the source of extreme pleasure, but also extreme pain. We use it to speak, to chew, to taste. The tongue is strong but difficult to fully grip. It can be firm and also soft. It is agile as it moves and flicks and licks. It’s form transforms; it can be long and thin one second and short and fat the next. These things all may seem obvious as I write them, but when you experience someone else’s mouth in this way it is surprising . To feel a mouth with only your fingers is strange. If I were to touch my tongue I would feel it through my tongue as much as my fingers, but to experience someone else’s turns the mouth into a mysterious unknown land.
As I pushed my fingers into Poppy’s mouth I felt slightly embarrassed at how sexual it seemed. The mouth and the lips feel so similar to the vagina, and obviously there are the connections with oral sex. The mouth suddenly felt like a site of vulnerability when surrendered to the experience of another. Yet this vulnerability is juxtaposed with power… the only thing stopping me from biting, was me; and so this power play between surrender and control was something that seemed to come out of doing this exercise with another person, opposed to doing it to yourself. Through this experience the mouth became an incredibly powerful and interesting land to me and I knew I wanted to explore it further when I returned to the studio.
So, I have since been using the mouth as site to respond to. I have been experimenting with mark making and also object making.
I chewed paper to make a pulp. I liked how the processing of the paper from one form to another using the mouth seemed to reference the body as a system of processes. The act of chewing related to digestion and the resulting pulpy pile seemed to correspond well. I left the pile over the weekend and when I returned I was surprised to see how the pile had discoloured. I am assuming that the bacteria in the saliva has affected the paper in a way that resulted in the discolouration. There is something quite disgusting about this, but I like that. For me that repulsion references the anxiety we feel about the functions and capabilities of the autonomous body. I like that the discolouration truly was autonomous- not my doing. Whilst I facilitated it i didn’t have any control over it.
The actual process of the chewing was difficult… I really struggled with the texture. It affected me in the same way as someone scratching a blackboard. My body was covered in goosebumps. I decided rather than processing bit by bit I would force as much paper in my mouth and chew, and then once the chewing had created more room I put more paper in… I kept going even to the point of gagging. I eventually stopped, but I do think it could be interesting to push this work further to the point where I cannot continue. Instead of choosing to stop, stopping when my body tells me to. I suppose that would require me to allow myself to lose control, to surrender as I did in the workshop.
I have been making other experiments such as exploring the sensory experience of feeling a space through my tongue. I used the tongue to feel the walls. It was interesting to experience. All other senses became unimportant as I focussed only on the sensation I felt on my tongue. When I talked about this work to a few people, the idea of contamination of the outside was raised; the idea that the tongue and the mouth is a way in for bacteria and for me to use the tongue to connect with an alien external surface such as a wall, I was making myself vulnerable. I think this is interesting- to think about how we experience the external through the body. How we are fearful of the fact that the body is not a sealed unit, that it is open to the outside; that the outside can come in, and the inside can come out. I imagined the ‘toxic’ trail of saliva that I had left on the wall.
I began spitting on paper. I was curious to see if there would be a visible discolouration like there was in the chewing piece. There wasn’t much of a difference. I decided that I liked the glossy bubbly forms that comes with the spitting action. I decided to try to make it more visible so I mixed Perylene Maroon gouache into it and the result was just so striking and visceral. I love how that colour looks so much like blood. The spit was transformed for having this colour present in it. It suddenly seemed to suggest that a violence preceded the spitting.
I am enjoying the immediacy that comes from working this way. I find it exciting to see the studio fill up will these traces of actions that I am doing. The spontaneity is allowing for me to engage with the dialogue of the work, and I feel that these new realisations are helping me to understand my fascination with the autonomous body further.