5 soldiers and Naked Attraction – bodies, machines, humans

BBC Arts was live — with The Space Arts and Rosie Kay Dance Company.

5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline (Salders Wells/live relay) & Naked Attraction (TV)

I watched this performance on Facebook, the morning after seeing Naked Dating on TV. I’m glad I watched them closely together, because, as a pair, they really do tell the story of how vulnerable and brave soldiers are.

The humanity of the soldiers is powerful in both renderings, but, for me, the creative interpretation and rigorous training of the body in the dance enables me to empathise the most. All corners were covered – team work, discipline, monotony, routine, coherence, obeyance, army as a military machine, gender, the individuals, isolation, camaraderie, fear, panic, terror and everything in between that portrays the complexity of being alive.

The stage set was simple and effective, the constant code displayed on the back wall reiterating the machine-ness of military procedures, that people are merely data now. Their descent reminded me of cherubim in a Michelangelo painting, and Busby Berkeley formations. Both relating to heaven and to hell, to the air and to the imminent ground.

The stage show benefitted from deep research and professional choreography, not to mention exquisite performances by all the dancers. The context is the cultural realm, not an entertaining TV show.

Naked Attraction on Channel 4 is a different thing. I shan’t make generalisations about audiences, why would I, because I watched both. It would be easy to dismiss NA as a cattle market, but having watched it a few times, I have become increasingly fascinated by the way the presenter handles the comments of the potential daters. They are also careful to mix up different cultures, sexual preferences and ages, so much so that I am constantly aware of that, because it is not often seen on TV. I don’t agree with the way it is presented in terms of objectification of the body, but hey, everyone is treated equally and there is a huge amount of respectful conversation and kindness in the way they speak of each other. I find this very refreshing, after the awful want-to-be-a-star programmes, where humiliation and jeering rule. It is also interesting that this dating programme with naked bodies of all shapes and sizes could risk being a bit of a wank-fest, but it isn’t.  Without uniforms, we are all the same. And where the stage performance required a leap of imagination to picture the solider that loses his legs, the TV programme is real, there in front of the viewer, and his story unfolds later.

At the beginning of this writing I used the term empathy, but maybe that is not what these shows evoked. They are both about acceptance, accept who you are, what you have, that you are unique, but you are more than your body. They challenge our cultural obsession with how our bodies are, how they operate, how we judge them. The TV does that by beginning with the most vulnerable body parts and moving upwards, ending where most dating begins – with the face. And then the added experience of the voice. We don’t know what work they do, or age they are, until near the end. They are neutralised by the absence of personal detail, the assessment is purely about the body. How fit they are in terms of attraction. But in a  machine-like way.

The soldiers in the dance are evaluated by how fit they are on different, more complex terms. They need to be physically fit to survive. That fitness is primarily based on strength and aggressiveness, yet the play reminds us that these machine-bodies are also sensory and tactile. Emotions are expressed more vividly in the play, more deeply, because of the skills of the dancers, producers and whole production team. Whilst the TV presenter of NA plays an important role in monitoring carefully how the date selector speaks.

My MA FA thesis many years ago was about the Digital Body and looked at Orlan, Stelarc and suchlike. They were bodies that wished to embrace machines, prosthetics and augmentation. In both of the above shows, the presentations provide the viewer with a window into the body as machine – as little more than machine – but then metaphorically cut the flesh, letting us see the vulnerable bodies within.

Beautifully.

 

 

 

Write up on my exhibition of drawings at Purton, this week, with thanks to Purton community

Sometimes my own practice collides with my work as a producer/curator, and this is one of those moments. I commission work for unusual locations – and love to do the same with my own artworks. So a friends house next to a canal and a village church fit the criteria perfectly. Read more about it here

There are some wonderful photos of the place and people, here’s a sample to whet your appetite.

And before you go, please complete my little survey, it’s only has three questions!!!

Empathy and both sides – thinking about how we can bridge thinking, drawings to inspire

Three days left to see my exhibition in The George Cafe in Newnham. Open 9.30-3.30 today, tomorrow and Saturday. I’d really love feedback from you – comment on here or on my Facebook page.

Thank you to everyone local who came, and those who have crossed the river to see the drawings. What interesting conversations we’ve had. I’ve had discussions with a Chinese woman about white space in Chinese art; with people who suddenly realise that they may know the river close to their homes, but have never ventured onto the other bank, and others that found the drawings calming and relaxing in a deep way.

Since the show opened, I’ve walked under the Severn bridge on both sides. How odd that whilst I have driven over it, and walked across it, it had never occurred to me to go underneath it. Bob Dylan went there in 1966.

I now find myself immersed in this return to practice, not in isolation from my work as a visual arts producer, but an extension of it.  All I have learnt from producing projects in unusual locations transfers directly back into my practice. And vice-versa. Ironically, one reason I ceased to create site-specific video installations is that they were non-transferable to other locations. How peculiar, then, that I end up making drawings which are so site-sensitive it feels they must always be seen one one bank, or the other, of the Severn.

The deeper thinking behind them is a universal issue – do we ever spend enough time considering the other side of anywhere/anything?

Can we dedicate some moments when we deliberately take ourselves physically, or intellectually, to the other side of any given situation? Empathy is impossible without understanding both sides.

Once we get our heads around understanding the other side, we can also explore impact. What happens on this side effects the other side.

Ripples travel, bores rush, tides turn.

I’ll be showing the drawings in Purton over the Bank Holiday weekend of 26th and 27th of August. Spending time over there again (I used to live nearby) will feed my thinking about these things.  I’ll also be heading up a walk down to the beached boats, to talk with others about these things.  Check back on www.hybrideyes.com for details nearer the time.

 

Building bridges

In these divisive times

Matters

The Severn divides the county

But we must not forget

That it also connects us

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farOpen, far out, fun and flow…….

(duplicated on http://www.hybrideyes.com because both blogs are relevant)

It’s been a fantastic week. Sometimes, there are times when all the planets align, and the energy they generate drive you far beyond, to places you never imagined you might go.  The last week has been like that both for me, and for farOpen, a group of artists in the Forest of Dean.

Starting with me, the week began with me installing 13 large drawings in The George Café in Newnham. As an artist that has been somewhat dormant for years, and comes from a video installation background, this is a bit of a departure, to say the least.

I have loved every minute of doing these charcoal panoramic images, and I think it shows, too. As a friend said earlier today “I feel the drawings in my heart, because I sense they come from yours. They touch me deeply, through my body, not just my eyes.” She’s very shrewd, is our Pam.

For less than 6 months I have been squirreling away, first at home, and then expanding into a friend’s barn, which I have transformed into a studio. I have battled with materials and scale, constantly wanting to make them bigger, wider, more physical and related to the reach of my body. The one that spans two metres opened up more than my arms, it revealed my desire to recreate the movements of the photographic process, using a panoramic frame. The process of ‘framing’ requires careful choreography. The action of drawing a long line on paper requires an echo of that reach.

Seeing all of them hung in this one space, the café feels transformed into a place for meditating on the vastness of the river, the width mapped out bank to bank, the depth implied by absence. I have been touched by people’s responses to them.

Soon, thanks to Arts Council Funding, I can begin work on the publication, which will be the culmination (or a new beginning?) of this body of work.

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photo by Sue Thomas


Upstairs in The George there is another exhibition, of works by various members of farOpen. The building has resonated with a strong sense of camaraderie while we created these shows in parallel. I’m a member of farOpen and have also been involved a little with developing the organisation as it grows. There’s a real sense of ‘membership’ now, seeing all their artworks being carefully curated into the upstairs room. Sculptures juxtaposed with stained glass, against jewellery and glass cylinders holding magnets and tension wires.

Friday morning a few of us arrived at Lydney Station at 6am to convert the waiting shelters into lounges, complete with tables, chairs, cushions, flowers and of, course textiles and pictures. We hung up bunting and installed a huge sound mirror created by Rob Olins. There were pictures by Monique Oliver and Christine Waygood, as well as cushion covers by Christine. There were flowers and rugs and drapes.

Thanks to the support of Arriva Wales, there was even an early morning cuppa for the commuters. Entertainment came in the form of two brilliant performers from Found in the Forest Youth Theatre and their delightful puppet ‘Dog’. Dog sniffed people unceremoniously, with a glint in his eyes. There were smiles all round.

That evening we opened at Taurus Arts, to celebrate what had been achieved in only a matter of months. This coming Friday, we launch at The George, farOpen upstairs and me down. 6-8pm. Do join us.

I’ve lived here for eleven years – this week has made me feel embedded properly. And farOpen is going places, with a great team of artists and organisers. We’re open for business!

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photo by Adrian Arens Price

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