Following my tutorial with Judit which I wrote about in my previous blog post I found that in trying to untangle my thoughts I was in fact making the tangled knot of thoughts even worse.
I began going through the book ‘The Artist’s Body’ (which has been a firm favourite of mine for the past couple of years) in order to attempt to reconnect with the key concepts within my own practice. This was initially a fairly easy thing to do. The book has so many works that I have been inspired by over the years. But as I looked at them as Judit had suggested the viewing experience meant that my experience of them differed. Previously I had looked at them with myself removed. Still finding the connections between why I was interested in a specific work and my own practice; but this time I felt that there was a real sense of weight on my shoulders. The pressure meant that I felt frozen. I knew that I was to look at works that I was drawn to and to specifically try to look at them with the concepts within my practice in my mind, but I found that I couldn’t get past the overwhelming sense that I could not do that myself. For example I have long admired the work of Ana Mendietta. The example of her work given in ‘The Artist’s Body’ is:
Untitled. (Death of a Chicken). 1972.
I am mesmerised by not only the way that Mendietta uses her body within her work, but also the use of materials such as blood and ash. Her use of materials spiritual references stir up challenging notions of both mortality and gender. I have to admit that I also have a huge amount of admiration for her courage to use her body and place herself within her work. This is what terrifies me.
I realised through this exercise that a lot of works that I feel drawn to when thinking of my own practice often involve the artist being in the work, using their bodies in real time- yet I feel that I am completely unable to do this. The idea of being naked in front of an audience in real space terrifies me. Maybe part of my admiration is the notion of being liberated from the inner critic- but I can’t imagine being liberated enough to expose myself in this way. It is one thing to make a body of work and place it in the public space, but to place yourself within that arena is something else. There is no safety net- no option of removing yourself. So I wonder- how can I move forward with this in a positive and productive way; because when I look at these works now, rather than looking with admiration I am looking with fear. And that is neither positive nor productive. I don’t want to be fearful of the works that I have admired for so long.
I suppose this exercise has opened up the dialogue with myself as to why I have put myself in this position. What I have done is placed myself at my own boundary. I am fascinated by works where artists are using their bodies through performative acts- yet I don’t feel able to. Is my practice an exploration of the common boundaries associated with the body- or is it more personal than that. Am I challenging myself? My inner critic? My own personal boundaries with my own body? Whilst this realisation is valuable, and one that I must engage with and interrogate, I feel that I need to find some sort of respite from this line of enquiry in order to have a productive practice. It is all well and good realising that I am in fact being my own worst enemy, but if my practice ceases to be active as a result then what is the point?
I decide that I need to be kind to myself and (temporarily) stop looking at the things that intimidate me or induce the sense of ‘stage fright’ that I have been experiencing lately. I need to loosen up. When discussing this problem with Judit Bodor and Mark Gubb this week they both had simple but useful advice.
Mark suggested taking some time away from the heat of the studio- which I did. I visited some of the Diffusion Festival venues in Cardiff Bay.
It felt great to get out and escape the conflict within my practise. The venues that were used to exhibit photography works were inspiring in themselves. They reminded me of The Bargehouse, they differed n the sense that their door hadn’t been opened to the public in a very long time. The way that organisers had made use of disused but beautiful buildings was inspiring. This experience proved to be energising to me. Sometimes I feel guilty walking away from my work because time is so precious when you have a family; but time away has proved to be much more beneficial that sitting and getting more entangled in my thoughts!
Judit’s suggestion was one that my previous tutor at Hereford College of Art, Mark Houghton, had also said to me in the past, ‘If you get stuck, pick up an old work and remake it. It will help you reconnect with the original ideas; and it won’t turn out the same anyway.’ So I decided to take this on. I had previously used a wig makers tool to attach hairs, one by one, to stockings. This was a work that was never fully completed and so I decided to redo it. This time there was a difference though. I decided that I would do it with underwear.
Through a free-writing exercise I realised that taboo is something that reoccurs in my work. I wonder what, if any, taboos still exist in our modern western society. I think that through the media and the internet we are over-exposed to sex for that to still be as taboo as it once was. Something which I feel is still taboo though is body hair. Even when people use it to make a statement, people are still unnerved by it’s presence on a woman. Even if they agree that we shouldn’t be. Hair removal is a multi-million pound business, and is considered a necessity by many, but why? I have dipped in and out of the book ‘The Last Taboo- Women and Body Hair’ by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, and it raises some interesting questions- I intend on reconnecting with these enquiries as this work progresses.
I decided to make the knickers out of tulle as I wanted them to convey the vulnerable exposure that can be associated with the removal of pubic hair. By attaching long hairs where the pubic hair would be the piece has a strange familiar / unfamiliar quality to it. It is still early on, and it will be interesting to see how it progresses as more hair is attached. One thing that concerns me it the difficulty in making the knickers visible. They disappear on a white background, yet the hairs disappear on black. Maybe I need to consider laying them on a coloured background? I have been asked whether I think I should wear the underwear as part of a performance, but I can’t even entertain that idea at this point! I am just managing to reconnect to the ideas; to start thinking like this again would invite unproductive thoughts back into my practice. It is too soon for that!! It feels great to be making and doing, and as this work involves a lot of repetitive action, I find that ideas are being drawn from the back of my mind to the front. I suppose this is like a sketch / drawing for me.