Out of Sight: From the Observed to the Lived Body in Contemporary Art

University for the Creative Arts, Epsom. 5 July 2019

This one day ‘closed’ conference, for a maximum of 35 invited participants, takes as its starting point ‘Out of Sight’ as one possible response to the question posed by the UCA research cluster Where is the Body? Through activities, papers and discussions, we are seeking to explore current art practices, and related theories,  that are centred on embodied and lived experience of the body, as having shifted away from those that are visible for the spectator, to bodies as extant and present for the artist. The practices we will explore are undertaken without a spectator in mind, as investigations and reflections of the body in certain conditions; in the condition of connection, balance and falling in the example of Mary-lou Barratt’s BASE Jumping, or in the conditions of being immersed in water and/or darkness in the case of Adrian Lovis or Flora Parrott’s respective practices of night swimming and caving.

Within the environment of art practice, but not necessarily with the label of art, these ways of working are in dialogue with sets of discourses from the wider humanities and scientific research communities, where the idea of bodies ‘in sight’ and ‘out of sight’ operate within different currencies (algae, fungi and seaweed as well as various insect and sea-life, and transplant surgery are examples from established research links). For example, Post human theories form common ground, and issues of subjectivity and the non-human are key to many discussions arising from closer examination of such practices.

Adrian Lovis (UCA) From Life Model to Night Swimmer An exploration of these two positions from the intersecting lines of the body at the active centre of a net of gazes of the life class, and the body as immersed, invisible within the space of water and darkness of the night swimmer. Taking theoretical lines from Merleau-Ponty, Lacan and Neimanis to consider a notional body as both phenomenologically located by the gaze and in the complex (and perhaps invisible) space of the non/post human.

Mary-lou Barratt (UCA) At the Edge: Considering the Documentation of a Performative Practice. A shift in practice from the participatory to the performative has bought with it a need to reconsider approaches to documentation. For practices that centre on the lived body, in this instance through BASE jumping, the usual strategies of documentation prove problematic in that they draw attention back to the observed body, initially fixing it at a level of visual engagement.  What approaches might be found, or developed, that enable the presentation of such practice in more appropriate terms to audiences beyond those serendipitously encountering a performance?

Flora Parrott (UCA, Royal Holloway University, London) Cave Divers and Cave Fish.  In 2016 the first European cave fish were discovered in an underground water system on the German-Swiss border.  The work examines the conditions of the subterranean/submarine territory and considers how these spaces are experienced and translated. Using examples of adaptation to an environment of extreme darkness as a way of thinking though fixity, modes of navigation, definition of edges and perception of space.

Adrian Lovis