It has been a while since I updated my blog… I hope to catch up over the next few days. Now feels like a good time to look back over the challenges that the past month or so have brought and take stock before ploughing forward in the final stretch of my MFA.
I suppose a good place to start is with my proposal for final show which has been the source of an incredible amount of stress and upset… but every cloud has a silver lining and this one definitely does. I will talk about the silver lining also, but firstly… my proposal.
I really felt that I wanted to be brave with what I proposed. I felt that my MFA has been an opportunity for me to really immerse myself in my research of the autonomous and abject body and performative action has played a very important part of that research. I felt that I wanted my proposal to be an accumulation of the actions I had been exploring, that it would also be a continuation of my research and most importantly, that it would be a challenge. Duration has always been an interest of mine but I hadn’t really fully explored my limits within it.
I recently attended a masterclass with Thomas John Bacon which allowed for me to really connect with the power within duration. It has massive affective potential in the way that the viewer connects with both the art work and the artist. Through an exercise set by Thomas I realised that I really don’t have any sense of awareness of my actual physical limits and boundaries. We performed an action taken from Thomas’s performance ‘Perception Lab’ set for Bacon by the artist Hellen Burrough. The action involved us in chair position against the wall with hands raised above our heads for 130 seconds and repeated for an hour. We experienced the transitions, though action, of the stages of despair and ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and I realised that my body and my mind is so much more capable than I am aware of. I experienced the internal psychological battle and extreme physical pain, that then passed into feeling quite detached and mechanical in the action, (probably a coping mechanism) and when Thomas asked us to connect to our experience and be present and mindful of our body’s responses my body felt more alive than I can ever remember it feeling. To experience the borders and edges of my physical capability allowed me to really experience physically being. It felt liberating to allow myself to fail. This was the biggest lesson that this action and Thomas’s insights taught me. That allowing my body to respond honestly and to allow it to be incapable and to collapse was to allow myself to be truly honest through action. In that moment of failure others in the room seemed to be so incredibly beautiful in their vulnerability. I realised that the performance ‘veil ‘ / ‘act’ drops when you allow yourself to be pushed beyond your control. It was this element of duration that I wanted to be present in my proposed performance, that was my reason for attending the masterclass. I knew it would create a platform within which I would discover what drew me to duration.
Based on the research carried out throughout the year and my experience through Poppy Jackson’s workshop and Thomas John Bacon’s masterclass I knew that I wanted to really challenge myself. I proposed to perform for the duration of the degree show and also assessment week, so two weeks in total. I proposed that I would occupy a room, 4.8m squared with minimal materials. The starting image in my mind was of me stood next to a stack of paper the same height as me- equivalent to my body. I would then use my body to process and work with the paper. I was intrigued in the notion of ‘installaction’, and I was excited that the space would become as autonomous as my body. The traces of my actions and also of my body being in the space would evolve over time, especially if I were to use organic matter such as saliva and blood. I decided that I would have a bucket in the space which would be my toilet and so the urine produced by my body would become my material. My body truly would be my material, and the space an extension of my body. The repetitive ritual of returning daily and reworking what had gone before would allow for a cyclical shift in energy within the performative space. I foresaw it providing me with the challenge of endurance. I anticipated that it would allow me to fully immerse myself into a transformative research period through which I would learn so much.
Unfortunately, despite giving extensive consideration and solutions to health and safety issues resulting from the work, the ethics committee of Cardiff School of Art and Design responded to my proposal stating that no human DNA was to be shown in my space and that the performance was not allowed. I was baffled with this as my original MFA proposal stated that I would be using my body as material during my MFA. I had been doing it for the duration of the course and it had never been raised as an issue; so to be told at the end of the course felt very unfair and limiting. I felt like my practice didn’t belong in the institution. This was a huge blow to the confidence I had built up over the course, and it took me a while to work past this.
I remembered a conversation with Thomas where he spoke of having similar issues with showing work in institutional setting and so I contacted him to have a conversation to find out his experiences and to attempt to gain a deeper insight into the artist’s experiences of censorship and ethics within the public realm. As a result of this I have been fortunate enough, (here comes the silver lining) to have been offered a space to perform at Tempting Failure Festival. This is an incredible opportunity and I am so incredibly thankful to Thomas for supporting me in this way. Thomas set up TF in response to these sorts or issues within the art world. The Tempting Failure website states:
Tempting Failure is a festival of international performance art and noise art, showcasing under-represented or extreme artwork that may interrogate risk or challenge preconceptions….Tempting Failure showcases a programme of artwork that is usually sidelined by producers and arts venues for being logistically too difficult, unexpected, prone to censorship or perhaps deemed too ‘extreme’. We provide a high profile and professional platform, working with artists to establish a supportive environment where logistically restrictive practice can be presented in a safe and contextualised manner.
I think TF is an incredibly valuable platform. Notions of censorship and what is/isn’t acceptable are interesting points to discuss, but I feel so passionate about art being a fluid, open and undefined thing.I feel so strongly that artists shouldn’t be censored and that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to make art. There is always a way to facilitate a responsible presentation / exploration and TF have proved this. Surely art is the best way to engage in the difficult conversations in society?
(Please do support this incredible platform, go check out the website, see the incredible work that the TF crew do and buy your ticket to this years festival! 21st July- 29th July in Croydon and Hackney, London. I will be performing on the evening of 28th July at Hackney Showrooms- See Facebook event page. )
With regards to my MFA show… after some breathing space I have decided that it may be interesting to actually engage with these issues. To respond to the limitations that the school have put in place for me and my practice. I suppose this is part of my practice and my concerns as long as I am practicing within this context. I have been censored and limited throughout my experience of academic research, both at BA level and now at MFA, and so there is obviously a lot of research and dialogue that needs to be done. I feel so passionately about the relationships people have with ideas of body, and these dialogues benefit society greatly; and so a response to the limitations for a body based practice in academia is needed in my opinion. I hope that making these boundaries visible will encourage a dialogue surrounding these problems. They are problems in that anything that limits our understanding and research is never a positive thing in my mind. I feel that there is always a responsible and considered way to explore challenging material, and that as long as it is all carried out in a safe, considered and responsible way, that no should never be an answer.