Tuesday, 2 August 2016

A question arising around the choice of (un) dress in the performance research

August 2nd 2016
Rough Notes.
The process throws forward a question around dress – how do I present ‘self’ as a clothed / naked person? What does this do to the politics of the action?
I perform the same action in three states of un-dress: wearing the clothes I have on that day (denim skirt and t shirt); wearing black t shirt and trousers as ‘performance clothes’; naked. All the time I have bare feet and my hair tied back.

Action: holding a bundle of kitchen utensils in each fist – wooden spoons, spatulas, whisks and the like – I lick the utensils, alternating five times from each hand. As I lick from one hand the other hand slowly rises until both fists of utensils are raised in the air. I hold this for a moment, then fling the utensils to the floor with a clatter.

What I notice about the difference in dress is that it complicates the visual imagery with added context. The black clothes seem neutral until they are set against nakedness. The alternative states of dress draw attention to the first – they add to saying something of my identity as woman in her 50’s; as performer/ artist.

In jeans skirt I perhaps look ‘homely’ – plain and utility. The clothing seems to be without significance but I reconsider that once this dress is juxtaposed with the black clothing and the naked body its own significance comes forward. These clothes speak of me – they are the most normative apparel and as such most closely connected with the sense of belonging and perhaps home.

In black I become a solid shape. Black absorbs light, black is of solemnity. The black clothing is recognisable as a ‘performance art uniform’ – it claims a neutrality that asks the viewer ‘ don’t consider the clothing, consider the action and the body’. I am aware of course that the black art clothing, much like the gallery space itself, is not without context.

In contrast the naked body operates as revealing of the ordinariness – the reality of the body of the performer. It says ‘ this is the body of the fifty year old woman’. My body is not slim but is muscular in places. I have suntan marks from a recently worn bikini and shaved public hair – perhaps this tells of the leisure time that I can afford? It removes all other contextual signification of jeweller or clothing. I am reminded of Kenneth Clark’s discussion on the nude in suggesting the nude is not the subject of the art form but the form itself. My body is not nude per se – it is naked (without clothes) – where are the clothes? (My mind leaps to the images of heaped clothes at Auschwitz that in turn mark the absence of the body.) The naked body becomes it’s own momento mori speaking both of life and death.

If shoes signify the wearer in some way what does bare feet do? The bare footed person is not without identity, otherwise clothed their gender, faith, employment etc. can still be signified. In the context of the performance action I suggest that the bare foot signifies the act as art work, it creates a bodily ‘frame’ that moves the ordinary body part into a place of cultural object.

The bare foot signposts the action of walking and draws attention to the grounding of the body to the floor. It signals an attention to the mechanics of the body which might become a choreography.

Further reading:
Tim Ingold – talking about the wearing of shoes and training of the feet – separation of body/ mind. The way the feet embodied

Eugenio Barba – the ordinary becoming extra ordinary?
Zerilli – 2004 phenomenology of acting?
Gradiva – the walking woman?

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