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.