Accompanying text to INGEST/ digest/ excrete (excerpt)
Having won the election, she forcibly shoved a piece of cake into my mouth, asking ‘which tastes better?’ She forgot my claim to my body is greater than hers. I protested then nominated the other cake best. Belly aching, I shat out a grey arch and marveled at it.
From: Nicole Morris <email@example.com>
Sent: 27 January 2018 02:02
To: Maria de Lima
I’m writing this in the dark, Ula lies next to me in bed- spread out horizontally so I am pushed to the edge. She is stirring, stretching, breathing. Currently I have a cold, I can’t lie down without coughing and find myself gagging on phlegm every other minute. On the commuter train I noticed people turning away from me with fear of contagion. Even though I was pale and evidently unwell, nobody offered me a seat. I thought that I wish I had my 'baby on board' badge back on- then I would have earnt that space to sit down. My body alone was not worthy.
I wanted to stop breast-feeding Ula when she turned 2 last November. On the night of her birthday, I could have persuaded her that 'big girls don’t need booby.' but something stopped me. Our last internal connection, our intimacy, our fluidity. All of a sudden it became severe and unnecessary. I didn’t want to break that tie, not yet.
This is the second cold I have had in a month. Last year I think I was ill only once. Since limiting the feeds to just one a night, I have found myself drinking more caffeine, wine, smoking, taking pain relief. I had a conversation the other day about why it is that we only protect ourselves when we are protecting somebody else. My body, Ula's home, had never been so sacred. It was a healthy advert that fought off drugs and addictions with its pure organic smugness. Now that she no longer lives there, I have started to abuse it again.
...I do not know what a domestic performance is. Domestic can be immediate, as in the flat I sit in now with Ula and Tristram ; or more national, collective. I’m thinking of airports and their domestic departures. The domestic sits aside from the foreign, -our bodies are not the same as theirs-. the possibility here for inclusion and exclusion. When you stayed over you mentioned the repetitive tasks of house work- kind of a performance. I immediately worried you saw in me somebody who had forfeited a career for cleaning and washing up after Ula. Foreign...
Maria de Lima and Nicole Morris (with contributions by Kelly Best; Natasha Bird; Fran Cottell and Jin Han Lee)
Accompanying essay and interview for Girlfriend at The National Gallery, Prague
A sense of inappropriateness – a feeling that most of us would have if we happened to find a cove among the cliffs on a walk along the shore, where two young lovers are hiding. A cold drop of sweat trickled down the inner side of her arm. The exhibition entitled Girlfriend operates with a multi-layered sense of inappropriateness; it is somewhat inappropriate in the exhibition cycle itself, which has always presented only a single artist.
We feel inappropriate whenever we are anywhere we should not be. But what if somebody else undertakes this experience for us? Under usual circumstances, it is not appropriate to watch intimate moments of others – is it not even stranger to watch somebody else in the role of voyeur? Even what is absurd is inappropriate, in a way. But when we perform an activity with a seemingly practical purpose, it is obvious that the chosen way of doing it is not effective to achieve a practical goal.
She bit into a sandwich, and as soon as she began to chew, a grain of sand stuck in her teeth. We tend to see such activity as naïve, foolish or childish. To fill holes on a smooth road is reminiscent of children playing in a sandbox. Just as white gravel before it, nor will yellow sand resolve the problem of an uneven road; it will be scattered all around. But the child does not care if his or her sand pie is going to crumble – they press the sand firmly into the form and as soon as they remove it, it becomes a real castle or real cake for the dolls.
Of course, it is inappropriate to connect what does not belong together. To fill the holes on a dark road with light sand is conspicuous, but it cannot rival the vanity of the connection of a trowel with caramel. The merger of these two materials is inappropriate, yet similarly (un)coincidental like the famous encounter of the umbrella with a typewriter. The process of re-mediation and intermedialization, too, generally bears a certain inappropriateness – media permeate one another, one depicting another. Painting on canvas is replaced with the graphic technique transforming a pattern into a textile design, which is a depiction of an architectural motif also serving as an architectural element in the space.
She removed dirt from behind the nail with the thumb of her other hand. The movement captured in a video, which could be seen as a performance bordering on daily routine suggests by its title, Road Coloring, that it is not only a parody of the effective solution of a pragmatic task, but also a flirtation with the painting qualities of the resulting pictures.
She heard the buzzing of a mosquito close to her ear and immediately felt an itch all over her body. The video hidden in one’s pocket, which could be seen through the screen of fabric, is captured in a photograph serving as material for a poster. One medium becomes the theme of another. The video Transfer seems to show us an artistic installation of objects, drawings and variable foreground and background layers. The alternating scenes and the play of light are reminiscent of theatre stage design. And, finally, our sensory reactions when we absorb tactile associations through sight and hearing, or when we almost feel a taste in our mouth as we smell something familiar, can also be inappropriate.
The elevator began to move and her stomach jumped. The work of Nicole Morris and Miroslava Večeřová is similar in using simple, often slightly ironic images, which nevertheless have a powerful sensory and associative potential. Even through abstraction, they evoke physical feelings and emotions, which are often ambivalent and, consequently, also inappropriate – we do not know precisely where they belong. She felt that a hair had become stuck to the tip of her tongue. Art is often a deep well of inappropriateness and of many of its shades and facets, which are all the more inappropriate because we do not find fitting names for them, so they are beyond the power of words and therefore also rationality. That is also why so many people feel inappropriate in the presence of contemporary art. But we want to reassure such exhibition visitors – if you feel inappropriate in any way, it is the appropriate feeling. Try to enjoy it.
Where do you see the connection or similarity between your works?
Nicole Morris: When we were discussing the show we spoke a lot about gesture and how in a framework such as an exhibition, something unnoticed can become visible. Between our works I think there is a common interest in how a gesture can be both performed and found and how this line between the staged and real can become blurred.
Miroslava Večeřová: Formally, there is a shared interest in providing the audience with a specific view on sculptural form through the use of technological devices. Our work aims to retain the physicality and materiality on and out of the screen through handmade processes; interaction with material; gesture and imprint. I think our work oscillates between fictions and reality that are consistently present. I also believe that despite the polemics of certain methods used within the contemporary art world, we share a drive to produce.
What does the medium of video mean for you in the context of your multimedia practice?
NM: I am interested in using video in a non-narrative way, as a means of creating another object in the exhibition space. I’m interested in how moving image could have the same spectatorship as sculpture, which recognises the viewer as both tactile and mobile. The presence of a physical object, in this case the fabric wall, acts as a means to further translate the discourse of touch inherent in the filmic spaces, into real space. In Transfer I was interested in how involuntary changes of expression for example, reddening of the face to show embarrassment, could be staged or performed. Alongside Kiss, which documents a voluntary action, the brick wall becomes a construction in space.
MV: Beginning with a photograph and thoughts around still image, I began to consider the moving image as an object and despite being located within a screen, to simulate the physical presence of a sculptural form. I am intrigued by the cameras ability to translate what it captures into convincing, yet constructed versions of spaces, reality and objects. Perhaps my fascination could be seen as a need to reengage with the analogue as an act of withdrawal from the digital heavy art world I operate within. In this exhibition I have also contributed a video performance from 2010 that I decided to return to and develop. My body interlocks, allowing my movements and gestures to be archived and reactivated when the video plays.
How do you perceive the body and bodily presence in your work?
NM: In the work there is an exploration of objects and their relation to the body. In particular, how a body can activate an object and how this can imprint on the body. The body appears in the videos as a visceral, sensual object, reacting to objects and actions. This body offers a rhythm to the work as a whole and is both performed and found; close up and distant. The viewer is a second body who activates the work by moving through the exhibition space, piecing each object together. Finally, there is the body of the worker who has laboured over the often time based processes, which in this case was printing.
MV: I have chosen to exhibit three works that each deal with bodily presence but in significantly different ways. First, a poster featuring an image of a figure, or accidental artwork, from my personal archive that we collectively believed it embodied the key thematics of the exhibition. Second, a video performance in which that artist performs actions into the real world. Finally, a work exploring gestures that emulate a sense of labour present within the architecture of the exhibition space.
Tactile Qualities of The Screen
Accompanying essay for Gentle Triggers at Artycok
“AYMÉ (baker) blue eyes, catcher’s physique, very nice- likes sweetness and caress at length- bought La Partagee- Has developed a taste for a very tender finger in the ass.ADRIEN enormous balls (hernia?) masturbates, finger in ass, suck all over (pouah!…) 80 F.ANDRÉ short, dry, going grey- assfuck, suck, fuck-instantly hard (glasses)100F …ALFREDO Near-dwarf Sicilian- suck, fuck, do not rush him 70 F. (Se also Fred) ALEX deaf, short, face a bit hard- no erection- manipulate with tenderness and extreme care 80 F. Do not suck- fucks more or less…”
Women are constantly confronted with their ability to produce affect and are well versed in using it pragmatically. Grisélidis Réal, sex worker, writer and advocate published her Little Black Book that comically reveals the pragmatism found on the other side of conventional women’s work in tactile affectivity. Subjective performance requires a level of strategy.
In capitalism today the combination of cognitive labour and precarious work means we find we are never not working. As a result every element of our taste, and expressions of self are immediately marketed and even produced to be marketable in the first place. While this is on the one hand an alienating function (we are formally subsumed by capitalism such that we don’t even know what part of ourselves could be considered not capitalist) the structural formation of post-fordism is more hospitable to traditionally feminine modes of work that centre around care and generating affect. Post-fordism not only ‘put to work’ language and communicative-relational action, but also femininity. However the problem then arises when, in order to remain marketable or competitive we are forced to hyper-perform; if it is ourselves that we are marketing, there are no limits to our performance.
Repetitive, mechanical, and abjectly objective is, paradoxically, the subjective function of the grotesquely familiar voiceover narrating Jala Wahid’s video “Let me touch you, I will make you feel really nice.”
In employing the conventions of the weirdly popular ASMR videos found on Youtube (with millions of hits) Wahid confronts us with the blatant absurdity of ASMR videos by abject distortion of their structural mechanisms. ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a perceptual phenomena that triggers a tactile response of widely reported, pleasurable tingling in the head, scalp and back in response to purely cognitive stimuli. Its function perversity lies in the fact that in order to trigger a response there are specific requirements the video must contain in terms of content. That is, the video must be guided by un-intimidatingly attractive young women, speaking in whispers, catering to you as an individual while producing light sensual sounds. Further, ASMR relies on the mediation of the screen as an unconscious fetish object. Could you imagine someone actually arriving home from work approached by their wife whispering, lightly touching them while purposefully running her hands through her comb? It would be totally absurd.
The hyper performativity of femininity that we find in something like the ASMR (that we should treat as a service provided by a precarious worker) can be observed as a direct surfacing of capital. Problematic not only for the obvious reasons of hyper objectification, domestication and subservience to men, the effect is that we no longer even have an inner world that is our own. The person we become is the person we are constructing as necessarily subjected to the market. For women this means marketing femininity.
Filtered through mundane imagery that quickly turns into the abject, Nicole Morris’s “Soft Power” shows to us affect is structural and not merely content-based, but maintains that tactility in video is not only reached through pleasure but rather is also achieved through the grotesque. However, the grotesque subject of Morris’ film is blatantly a subject without exchange value; a subject lacking the kind of femininity we could capitalize on.
Morris and Wahid’s reconstructions of the images and sounds used as a mediation in ASMR to access certain imaginary relationships to representations of femininity, renders clear the fact that the tactile response to ASMR videos is generated through cognitive activity created purely by an imaginary narrative that is culturally embedded in the correctly performed feminine image on the screen. It is thus our imaginary connection to the image and sounds on the screen that triggers the very real material surfacing of a purely cognitive effect. In observing the phenomenon of ASMR we are thus faced with the contradiction that the pleasurable aspect of touch is only manifest through an embedded narrative that is purely imaginary. This is nothing new to Lacanian theorists who, through the widely known phrase ‘there is no sexual relationship,’ have purported that pleasure has always required the mediation of a fantasy; we never directly derive pleasure from the touch of another, rather pleasure accessed through our fantasy of the physical interaction. Hence in the case of ASMR, there must be a perverse culturally shared fetishist fantasy about femininity that runs deep in our collective imaginaries in order to produce such a widely experienced effect.
Women’s subjection to patriarchy is on the one hand increasingly mediated by capitalism and thus not always directly apparent on the surface, while on the other hand is increasingly violent in the case of overt outbreaks of violence against women as seen by the 83,000 cases of rape and 400,000 cases of sexual assault that occur every year in the UK. Capitalist mediation problematically functions to hide the reality of patriarchal relations under the guise of women’s inclusion in the capitalist market while fictionally depicting structural violence against women to be the one off result of a randomly angry husband or pathological pervert. On the one hand, patriarchal control is subverted by the over-determination of capitalism in our lives and on the other, by the resulting belief of equality that views violence as random. The videos by Nicole Morris and Jala Wahid adamantly dispute these misconceptions of patriarchal control, showing how women are systematically produced as subjected to patriarchy through the un-freedom of marketing feminine subjectivity under current conditions of capitalism. ASMR is more than a hyper feminine representation on the screen functioning as a service of care, but rather the surfacing of a complex relationship between women, subjectivity and work.
Exhibition text for Caprice, Open Space, Baltimore
I sit on a bed and look down at a screen. I have just daydreamed about something forgettable while staring at the pattern on Stan’s shirt.
A bird’s eye view of Stan posing in a somber stance swiftly changes to a belt buckle height view of the Lieutenant walking and talking with Rico, Trudy and Sonny. The florescent lights behind them make dramatic angled horizons that wrap around and frame the characters in my focus.
I am back in the heat of the dialogue. Trudy, who stands to the right of the Lieutenant, shares info she just scooped, and peels off to her right. Her blue dress has this specific cut. The fabric opens at the arch of her back and casts a parabolic frown that mimics the shape of the Lieutenant’s downturned mustache.
I look up to my right at some painted clouds on a poster. I zone out for about a minute.
Sonny and Rico now walk through a lobby of what looks like a big city commercial building. They approach a monitor that is situated at their waist level on some sort of table. The screen is angled up to face them. Rico points at the device, and just then green letters appear across its matte black surface. The verdurous typeface spells out company names and office numbers. Sonny wears a gold watch and has purple sleeves.
I am now close up to what seems to be a women’s left hand filing the nails on her right hand. There are many women next to and around her. Each speaks into a telephone in a sultry tone. Suddenly, I focus on one women who, besides speaking on the phone, is bicep curling a small free weight. She wears a sleeveless yellow shirt and a tattoo of an indecipherable image on her shoulder and arm. I stare at many foreshortened women. One catches both my eyes because she seems so carefully positioned. She has a large perm and advances her left hand fingers at a specific pace through the tan curly chunky chord that connects her receiver to the listener on the other line.
A new woman appears sitting at her desk alone in an ostentatious office. There is large cursive font on a wall adjacent to where she sits. She appears more prominent than each of the previous women because she sits by herself at her own desk. I see only the left side of her. She reaches to her left and shuts a glass door. I regard the solitary desk woman from her right side, and simultaneously at a three quarter angle. She is foreshortened. Behind her and through the glass door I spy a single foot.
Audio exhibition text for Beside, Five Years, London
I’m lost on a Wednesday afternoon, the start of a sore throat. Nicole directs me to Space studios; I’ve gone too far down the Old Kent road. Take your time she texts.
We don’t kiss, both of us aren’t sure if we should. We move in and out, uncertain.
We walk down corridors of wooden boxes and come out into the open burrow of Nicole’s studio, which she shares with a painter. I recognise the textured rubbings of cut out hammers and scissors from the photographs. We say later that I’m seeing the work the wrong way round, topsy-turvy; the documentation, the studio, the unknown future of the gallery.
Before this conversation, we sent each other a list of words. Words we’re stuck on.
We talk about Nicole’s list: sharp, hard, soft, flesh, flab, pointy. The disgusting, sensual fragility of the body. The tensions and overlap between artifice and reality. Construct and nature. The Real Thing.
Alongsideness, desire, flirting, hosting, holding. Your words all need an ‘other’ she says, they exist only in relation to something else.
I’m captivated by the idea of our interdependence on others I say; the sociality of human life. The ethical imperative of the body; if I am undone by you then you are part of me.
Like Mother like Daughter. Wobbling flesh, the masculinity of minimalism; Nicole deals in the tropes of femininity –the stilettos and false nails. Hiding the wobble.
We talk about play, dressing up, cross-dressing, pretending; the performativity of gender. Wearing your mother’s shoes. Acting it out, trying it on for size.
Nicole wears the cardboard shoes she has made, oversized, fragile and bending. Clip clop. Rehearsal and repetition. There is room for things to be diffident when we stumble, where we fail at being a woman. The same but not quite.
The cut out tool are like boys’ toys, my first tool kit; neither use nor ornament. The rubbings create a rendered softness that feels feminine. Soft Power.
We mention oxymoron. Contradiction. Is it onomatopoeia? Where the signifier and signified are collapsed. Sounds and sense are the same.
Clip clop, drip drop, slip slap, tick tock, chitter chatter, shiffle shuffle, trit trot.
Cliché is a gesture in language when there are no words. You’ll get over it, time is a great healer. They fill space – reach out. Words become action when speech is impossible.
She might position the cut outs mounted on wood, the backs bare, criss-crossing the room; showing the underside, revealing what is behind the scenes, off stage. Is a there a right way to view the objects and who are they for? Are they props for the camera or objects for the audience? Going back in the box. What is the life of an object?
The plaster shoes on a low plinth. Down at heel. A made up woman. Something sad and vulnerable. False pretences. Mutton dressed as lamb. Soiled.
Prints of a sole and heal. Flesh pushed into points.
We watch the jelly wobble on Nicole’s camera. Wibble wobble. The deliciously disgusting shake, slurping and sliding. Unapologetic and gross. She describes the scene, the girl with big hair and a knobbly back walking in a pair of shoes pushing a trolley of jelly.
Black jelly. Eating it with a spoon. Black mouth. It stays with me. Slip sliding away.
When is it finished? Is the work done when it reaches the gallery? Galleries fix objects in place, perfection, the end point. How can she mess it up? The studio contains all the possibilities. Brancussi’s orphaned objects; ripped from their partners to stand isolated in galleries.
Motherhood. The pulse of a different conversation at the edge. Beside myself.
I think I should have kissed her goodbye.
Touch To Feel
Catalogue essay for TTTT at Jerwood Space, London
A smartphone just launched called “Pyongyang Touch.” It looks like a common Samsung or Apple model but it is available only in North Korea. Hardly anyone in the country will ever see one of these devices, let alone “touch” one, but those few will be initiated into customs and rituals unique to our time. These gestures are instinctive — swipe to scroll, pinch to minimize. It is the way we played with make believe books and microscopes as children. Hands customize what is on the screen. Touch until the screen reflects what you wish to see.
“Pyongyang Touch” doesn’t connect to the internet. That is forbidden. But it gives users the power to manipulate a screen environment like clay. After experiencing it, the physical world no longer seems like something static. Touch screen gestures are so natural that it is not unusual to watch toddlers swipe a television or shake a book to update the image. We are no longer divided by these gestures. Somewhere a kid in North Korea might be patting at a TV now saying, “this screen is broken!”
The origin of an object in the exhibition TTTT is also, improbably, Pyongyang. Oliver Laric’s Mansudae Overseas Project is a copy of a bronze sculpture the artist ordered from a commercial art manufacturing studio in the city — its website operated by an Italian liaison. The network activity (visiting the website, contacting its administrator) that led to the construction of this object is as invisible in physical space as the policy that made it complicated (postal service sanctions and other logistics.) Border control and internet censorship divide us from North Korea. We might be standing on the same sedimentary rocks but no one meets us in the digital overlay. Physical miles seem like years away.
Nicole Morris’ Your Love Will Fade begins with shadows and shadow puppets. No one casts a shadow on the internet, and you can’t touch either. A woman’s flesh, bound in a strappy dress, is shown in contrast with rough textures, sounds, and surfaces which indicate friction. The idea for every piece she makes begins with clay. Viewer squeeze in to see the projection of the film behind hanging fabric. Nicholas Brooks and Heather Phillipson also construct physical barriers to see their work, with screens and ladders, respectively. Cécile B. Evans is exhibiting an installation including 3D printed items that she selected from a study of the top 100 most familiar objects — a comb, scissors, and a screwdriver. The familiarity comes not just from the look of these objects but also our expectation of what each weights, the surface texture, and way we handle the objects; the qualities we register by touch. Benedict Drew and Johann Arens further interrogate the contrast between navigating the physical world with your eyes and navigating a screen surface with your fingers.
Artists in the exhibition TTTT are inviting us to consider textures that are only experienced offscreen. Digital and physical worlds might appear interconnected, but for now, to touch, to feel something other than flat glass, means to put the gadgets away. In time, we will move away from the screen, and the internet will pump through everyday objects. Interfaces of the future could feel like grass, snakeskin, denim, or rubber. We will mime fingerpainting in the air soon enough. The physical world will be as malleable as what we see now boxed in bezels. Until then, we live in anxious crosshatches: the space between the world we create with our fingers and the world we sense from touch.
Common words took on new meanings after the internet. Now to “search” for something, is less about yearning, than research. Used outside an onscreen context, “search” becomes a metaphor for the algorithmic function to find something specific, but it is a word as old as language. There is no synonym — quest, pursue, examine — that quite fits the shape of the desire we described before we went online. The word “touch” is likewise recalibrated, with a focus on the motion of touching rather than sensing the texture of something. The uniformly smooth surface of a “touch interface” has no friction. Touch is never the point of a digital experience, not the way that code is written for us to hear or see. We touch surfaces that do not tug back or prick our fingers. We touch to alter images, to turn the volume down. We touch to engage other senses.
No wonder a phone is frequent bedside companion. The last thing to touch before sleeping. Wake up and touch. Handling that object all day long with delicate fingertip gestures creates an unusual intimacy. Touch to feel in control of the screen world, to orientate your way through space. It changes your postures and body. When my phone is in my bag or my pocket, sometimes I catch myself holding my right hand clenched still like a claw. I have spent so much time holding a flat rectangle my muscles contort in this resting pose, an empty space where my phone is otherwise.
An elite few in North Korea wake up and touch their phones first thing in the morning. In a satellite image, the country is a black patch between networked glittering garland weaves of light in neighboring South Korea and China. It is as dark as the Sea of Japan, with just one bright spot at the capital city, Pyongyang. That’s where the smartphones are sold. The smartphones without internet. Mapped there is a tyranny beyond our imagination, and to privilege online representation above physical encounters, or weigh each the same, is to allow us to forget it.
A screen only represents texture. It offers just a shadow of an approximation of what it is like to experience tactility. There is emancipatory imaginative power in the capacity to move digital objects with fingers. However, to register the substance and feel of things, as the exhibition TTTT reveals, means to hold your hands out to touch.
Does it Matter?
Accompanying text for Currency, Performance at Jerwood Space
The ‘currency’ of money, its movement in a circuit, relies on acceptance by the circuit’s members. A communication without words, all members speak to one another mechanically, counting in their heads the mute economic gestures entering and leaving their lives.
What is said when money moves?
‘Thank you for believing along with me that the thing you sold to me is worth these tokens. And thank you for the change, the small sweaty things you passed to me. I’ll treasure them.’
The corporeality of money in its physical form is experienced in instances of exchanging notes, with people, for things. Believers and non-believers are welcome. When each grubby note is passed on, the hand of the recipient is gently touched; both transactors in denial of the dirt on the almost-damp paper transferred. In times of digitised exchange, these physical transactions feel somehow tender.
Money’s more epic movements: its origins, its self-expansion, the majesty of its universal acceptability, allude to a life that takes place beyond its material presence. And this aura of immateriality is today saluted by digital exchange, where altcoins and their peer-to-peer protocols appear to make virtual money’s movements. But are these digitised processes instead a kind of making real of the already virtual nature of money?
As a promise to pay, a record of a debt, a marked absence of an object, money is a placeholder: an inconsumable stopgap waiting to be filled with content. As an everyday medium bringing the spirit of value to our clammy hands, money exceeds the present with forward-looking gestures – producing speculated and, in this respect, virtual realities. By alluding to a world where everything is commensurable, money’s currency impudently offers the potential of a relation not merely with anything, but with all things – albeit a promise of the infinite that is consistently undermined by the finitude of its bearers.
As bearers we serve money’s flow. But a moneyed existence is a continuous process of letting go. Reassured by its promise to treat each of us equally, social and intimate values are handed over to the numerical eloquence of price. Still letting go, each player produces more value than they will themselves touch, all activity dancing quietly to the same tune. Somehow aware of the game, is the sweat of our palms as we clutch at a coin an ode to the sweat expelled in the making of its worth? The disparity between the moist palms of exchangers and the drenched bodies of producers is of no importance to money. Currency circulates dirtily and digitally – and doused in its glorious liquidity, its members link their fates.
Exhibition text for Art Projects, London Art Fair
The integration of an athletic discipline into daily life in the Soviet Union is no undocumented phenomenon, it is acknowledged rather as a fundamental facet of its outward facing image. The body of the worker was symbolised in the athlete as the pinnacle of production, a subject perfected in use value. No less was this true of fascism, epitomised by Leni Riefenstahl’s formally groundbreaking documentary of the 1936 Olympics, Olympia. The establishing of a link with the classical Olympian, a tacit recollection of a classical conception of the body prior to a Cartesian body-mind split. The body, of the athlete, of the Aryan, as historically determined, as perfectly suited to its goal. Olympia found its post-war place in the history of film but does it present the body as object of history and object of perfection or an aesthetically somatic concern? Let’s not forget that Riefenstahl was a dancer, but we’ll return to this later.
Today athleticism is fast becoming a primary aesthetic value once again. Ostensibly a concern with physical fitness it provides a veneer of respectability, of thoughtfulness, to yesterday’s narcissism. At the level of the image, Soviet athletic perfection is co-opted (fascism being resistant to ironic re-appropriation). There can be no surplus, a tautness of skin serves merely to highlight a toned musculature beneath: athleticism is not the new skinny but stands diametrically opposed to it, not a lack which speaks of a wealth but a quality honed, a quality of actual value. In the modern Olympian and their shadows, an economy of body mass, which is rational and productive, emerges precisely as the veil falls from a financial economy that is irrational and destructive. Why an athletic aesthetic and why now? This aesthetics negates all questions that cannot be answered through the ‘quantified self’‘.
Athleticism is undoubtedly a celebration of perfection, but perfect for what? Certainly not national socialism or even communism, perhaps nothing at all, the idea of perfection without the perfect. Today athleticism is all about beauty, one that is heir to a tradition stretching from Kant, so let’s not kid ourselves, no one lives in the Soviet Union any more, this beauty is use-less. A perfect physique achieves merely arbitrary goals but its real value is aesthetic and nowhere is this clearer than in its representation. Technology makes a claim to an unideological, natural reality; slow motion attempts to make an experience of beauty all the more real. At the limits of the micro and the macro, in a quest for the ever larger and smaller, and perhaps the unconditioned, modern rational sciences were founded. The microscope and the telescope were foundational for their orientation towards reality and so too, in its wake, the presentation of this modern beauty is realised with ever slower motion sequences. As muscles ripple with the powerful impact of each foot on the track we come within touching distance of beauty.
However, as is often the case, pushing something to its limits reveals instead its opposite; something strange happens as motion gets ever slower. In the modern hyper-aestheticised athletic event, frame rates rise above the frequency of the lights that illuminate the athletes. Images are captured faster than light can reach the camera; at regular intervals frames darken like lightening in negative. The footage begins to flicker; high definition shots of physical perfection take on the quality of a simple animation. What is shattered here is a claim to reality, in a spectacle of speed, technology unveils itself and with it its direction, its ‘angle’, its goal. We are not watching a simple body in motion, or even a symbol of all that is beautiful in the human form, but the representation of fundamentally singular beauty. There can only be one winner and this is another ideology altogether. The camera captures their sweat, the labour of their fruits, but what of the profuse sweat of the others, those who only labour but never win?
Profusely is an adverb, often negative, that modifies only a handful of verbs – swearing, bleeding, sweating. Its Latin route is literally to pour forth, profundere, where fundere, found, has a double meaning, both to pour and to cast: what, then, of this sweating profusely, this casting of the others? Perhaps it is better to ask what is the relation between that which was cast (past) and that which is a cast (present), the original and the copy. The beauty of the athlete is undoubtedly that of the original, but it is also infinitely singular, it cannot be cast and copied but merely serves as an example for those who wish to follow. It is the contemporary ideological, individual beauty, its analogue is the entrepreneur, Riefenstahl was a dancer but Usain Bolt was Richard Branson.
Art is not immune from this purification of beauty; it may be stating the obvious to decry the – seemingly, equally artistically irresistible as it is ubiquitous – computer generated art object as Platonic. These CGI objects float free from physical laws but bring with them a material history, which defines an art that holds them as exemplary. Born of the design process, 3D digital images beget an art that shuns sweat and casting. Not simply literally, its material goes un-worked both physically and conceptually; in a reversal of art history composition redetermines construction. Here construction materials are merely piled in tasteful composition or a gloss and glaze attempt a high definition reality.
The athlete then can have nothing to do with casting but there remains something for art in sweating profusely. There is an undeniable pathos in the race just lost but the camera turns away at the most interesting moment. As the winner crosses the finish line the others become just that, but they are no longer worthy of focus. Art then can be the impression of these others, those excluded by the totality of beauty, a cast of their sweat. In the imperfection of the cast, and its impression, another aesthetic can be found. If the hyper-real artificiality of athletic beauty becomes clear when the frames of the high-speed film make themselves apparent in their abundance, an altogether different beauty might emerge from a profuse profusion of sweat.
Exhibition text for After Work at Locomotion, London
move his hips around and learnt not only his trade (baseball). He learned that the game of inches had to do with his disappearance of pimples.
The circular layout of a track pulls out into the home straight and tight into the corners.
I dunk a Johnson and Johnson cotton ball into a Johnson and Johnson rubbing alcohol and rub the cotton ball against the pimple. It smells so good. So clean. So cold. And while the alcohol is drying I think about nothing.
pushing the shape of the figure in and out of the two dimensional film space the work flatly applies the body into a prone and oddly estranged relation to its own framework. How divorced this relation has become is disturbingly made clear from the limited expressions of aerobic activity.
a black towel laced with salmon, peach, and gray-green flowers…a tall red plastic glass and a can of sprite, a pack of cigarettes in a leather case with a lighter pouch, a rolled copy of cosmopolitan, a ribbed brown squeeze bottle of suntan cream, a thin radio the size of a wallet
Warm up aids scattered about the track, clothing and high glucose drinks. The female and male complex is simply made neutral and obvious to all but the wearer. You came here to lounge, stretch and be seen! Like Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, it all exists in the moment. The hurdles, fences and obstacles are re-made and directly crossed with time to spare.
Exhibition text for A Romance in Two Parts at Galeria Magda Bellotti, Madrid
In this exhibition objects and films are approached within the same system as props for a kind of set that explore the different, and often conflicting, sensations created by spatial depth, and functions within a composite of filmic, theatrical, installation and sculptural environments.
In the show there is an increased awareness of the different levels of depth, artificiality, function, and control over the different represented spaces. An impenetrable field in an unknown location sits inside the prop-world of a singular and purely aesthetic existence of clay objects and silk hanging screens. But at the same time there is a blurring of the distance between filmic space and immediate space. This can be seen in the physical properties of Testpiece I and Between us which function, simultaneously, as representations of their own spaces (filmic portals and interior theatrics) and also as an interdependent light source and architectural framing for their respective viewable existence.
Whilst working in immediate architectural harmony, there is clearly a disjuncture between the different representations of space and time within the fragments that make up the whole. Testpiece I contains two main conflicting forces present throughout the whole exhibition. These being the heavily orchestrated framed elements and those of the immutable, ‘exterior’ world. The overtly choreographed and blue-screened body parts float uncomfortably over the top of the unknowing, uncompromising landscapes. The result is a collaged theatre, assembled together with a real time backdrop that leaves the viewer with the awareness of the distinct simultaneity of both layers as well as the sense of the latter’s continued existence, off camera, somewhere on the continent. There are two durations thus forming in this video; firstly, the duration of all four backdrop scenes which continue to run mentally (as they do physically) for the viewer after he/she has stopped watching it and, secondly, the loop sequence of moving body parts that we are conscious exist solely for our viewing and cannot be found outside the projection (except for similar but rejected fragments from the same tape). There is a dizziness of outer body experience both, literally, with the decapitated head banging and with the viewer’s mind being overdriven by overrun feelings of spatial multiplicities.
The above forms the chaotic side. However, there is a counter to this mood, that of microscopic inspection, the comfort of closeness, self control, beauty and clarity through the focus on the physical objects. As opposed to the enveloping magnetism of the filmic space, the objects have a slower, more rational appeal. The viewer starts to make aesthetic connections as well as thematic ones, between clay-limbs, the printed brick patterns and the blue-screen video. The clay objects start to take on limb-like shapes related to the blue-screened body parts and the printed bricks start to give a theatrical meaning to the whole space, especially in relation to the second video projection, Between us (detail).
Between us (detail) exists closely with the hanging screens and offers the most theatrical version of spatial and durational experience, despite creating another digital space. The audience suspends their disbelief in a similar way they would in a theatre and in fact the vacuum that is created by the static camera becomes a kind of stage-set. However, the sound of the objects do not always follow the image and the stage-like shot is heavily disrupted with cuts and close-ups– breaking the initial feeling of its real-time, one-take performance of all its parts. But the eye is comfortable with this editing and willingly zooms in and out with the camera onto details of the set, like in a theatre or cinema where your eye or ear becomes drawn and trapped by an intriguing yet superfluous prop or sound effect. It is often, mysteriously, that thing which you remember most vividly. So this camera performs a similar quest for unspoken textures and sounds that cause this unconscious impression somewhere on our memory, to the point of an abandonment of spatial and temporal order.
But just as things are, they are also not in the whole. Filmic, or pictorial, space and real space come to represent, on the one hand, the illusion of depth and, on the other, the depth of the material creating the illusion. These are mirrored in the printed fabrics that contain, from afar, a life-size wall (with its designs of sunlight and shadow, its subliminal decorative masque) and, up close, the contrivance of the viewer’s trained theatre-eye, to understand a sheet of fabric as a brick wall. The bricks’ theatrical function are undermined by our walking through them and examining their imperfect geometric design up-close; switching from an imaginary location to the one in front of us.
The feeling of chance juxtapositions, depending on how the space is navigated and at which point you happen to meet the films, create a feeling of, either, a fated or jumbled parallax in your viewing. In a sense you are stuck somewhere between being a viewer and a live editor; your viewing of the work is a snapshot of your movement within it. In one way you want to read the work as you feel it was intended (with the correct duration, in the intended order) but this is impossible to know- as you, your body and eyes, your patience, mood and chance are determining those factors.
The bold abstract symbols of the clay body parts feel less ‘real’/connected to the body when compared with their fleshy blue-screened counterparts despite proximity’s implication of the reverse. However both versions have a coldness in their detachment; The video body parts by their dislocated familiarity and the clay pieces by their systematic bluntness; their most simplified symbolic form, their most base representation; the minimum possible detail for their continued namesake. The tenuous connection between the blue-screened body parts and those made of clay represent a linguistic leap from the material thing itself to its abstracted abbreviation. Rather than undermining the attention to material and form, this forms a visual that upsets our thematic navigation of the space. Again, our initial connections are undermined. What we are left with is a contradictory understanding of the fragments, which oscillates between the exclusively hypothetical and purely material connections.
It will only be that having left the exhibition the contents will settle into their place. The image that is seen does not visualise within the space, it happens somewhere after, when all the time and space collapses into one impression*. The afterimage will blur the filmic and real time space and what was what, what was where, where was what and when, will be floating around until their confused order will cement itself as an irretrievable memory.