Where is the Body? Is a fluid group of academics, art-based practitioners interested in sharing and rehearsing relevant ideas and concerns. The project has continued to grow from the intersecting concerns initially identified by Mary-lou Barratt and Adrian Lovis: Vicky Smith joined the project in advance of the 2017 symposium. This inaugural event brought a range of voices to the cluster and the project continues to expand with Flora Parrott joining in 2018.
I am an artist and researcher currently undertaking a TECHNE funded PhD between the Geography Department at Royal Holloway University London and the Printmaking Department at The Royal College of Art. The work looks at notions of the subterranean, experiences of darkness and the restructuring of the senses. Working in the geography department has influenced and reframed the approach to making: Recent projects have experimented with the idea of fieldwork and with the expansion of the conference format; co-ordinating interdisciplinary, thematic events that exist outside of the traditional conference environment.
The work is inherently collaborative, often developed with other artists and I have also worked with earth scientists, an evolutionary biologist, geographers and historians – it is important to me that these relationships are on-going and foster a sense of exchange.
I am considering the possible equivalence in experiencing my body in two seemingly disparate circumstances; as a swimmer, immersed in darkness and cold water; and as a life model, in 360° of light and studying eyes.
I can’t say the first was motivated by academic enquiry, more the joy of sensation and the untiring fascination with experiencing the body moving through water, held by water – even erupting child-like (or dog like), in water. Equally, the experiment to see how it would feel to be a life model was through curiosity as to the sense of positioning an unthinking, unspeaking, un-behaving body, as an object of study, from which to be re-constituted through dragging, scratching, scraping, rubbing, smudging, drawing, erasing, pressing, stabbing etc. into so many lines and marks.
Swimming, in darkness; hands, stretching, as though to feel, into the depth of black sea and night – the body’s sense of surface and weight thrown out of its usual registration of terrestrial, social or visual conditions, into a curious sense of
abstraction – a particular complication between interior/exterior, not just through an invagination of the senses, but also here, specifically at night, activated by absence of light and sight. As a model, a correspondent experience in verso, here self and body – as much as self and world – are dis-located – dissolved; body flooded by light and visibility, while self is afforded an extraordinary privacy – itself not being the subject of drawing, but supporting (and through discomfort, experiencing) the presentation of that which is – a pose, a form.
Through thinking and sharing with the experience of others, I am exploring how these activities can be orientated towards the constitution of a practice.
Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Luc Nancy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Elaine Scarry, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva and Michel Serres, amongst others, are key to investigating this.
A longstanding interest in social change, of the grass roots kind, has lead me to a practice that aligns with what Patrick Reinsborough describes as ‘post-issue activism’ and a collaborative, community-orientated approach has shaped that practice for many years. Then, doctoral research with the Social Sculpture Research Unit turned my attention to the ways in which, in terms of radical social change, the power-to of the individual precedes the power-to of the collective. In this way, my focus shifted to the seizing of the self as the primary locus of revolutionary power, and to the ‘en-livening’ capacities of the aesthetic dimension in contrast to the anaesthetising force of dominant ideologies, or what John Jordan describes as ‘the somatic sensation at the root of the aesthetic,’ which enables “a profound noticing of our world … just paying attention – simply feeling.”
My current practice centres on a seizing of the self, primarily through the active and immediately present body, which offers an edge for that sense of self, the starting point for a relationship with the world. There is a resonance of Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of the ‘withness of the body’ here, which situates the body as the site of the primary field of experience of the world, and an allusion to Felix Guattari’s three ecologies, in the sense that it depends on a meshing of mind, body and world in a way that performs ‘No!’ to dominant systems and explores alternatives.
In some ways, this practice has a performative aspect, although it mostly attempts to avoid an audience. Documentation is also avoided, although incidental images occasionally mean a ‘viewer’ might catch a glimpse of the body’s presence in this practice, or to get a sense of its invisibility and the ‘dissensus’ that it performs.Faber, R, Halewood, M and Lin, D (2012) Butler on Whitehead: On the Occasion. Lexington Books.
Guattari, F (2014) The Three Ecologies. Orig. pub 1989. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Jordan, John (2001)‘Give up Activism.’ In: Do or Die: Voices from the Ecological Resistance, no. 9 (September 2001): 166-170. Available from: http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/activism.htm
Reinsborough, Patrick (2003) ‘De-Colonizing the Revolutionary Imagination: Values Crisis, the Politics of Reality and why there’s Going to be a Common Sense Revolution in this Generation.’ In: Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Vol.1 Issue 2. August 2003. Available from: http://www.joaap.org/1/de_colonizing/2.html