In the first week of the module as I explored the space for the first time something that was evident to me was just how dead and static everything was as is the same in any gallery. All of the artefacts, paintings, and pieces are a single thing or a captured moment in time. They have no life to them, or at least no ability to tell their own story “Museums are deeply implicated in the Modern, as instruments for cataloguing” (Keene, 2006) What I wanted to do is bring life to a prominent part of the Collection’s collection, that being its armoury. All of the weapons and armour in the collection obviously have been through a lot of use and they have almost fallen from glory in a fashion. The weapons when used did damage to both the enemy and the user themselves. An example being the English longbow, because of how cheaply it was produced coupled with how efficient a weapon it was, it became the common man’s weapon. The very bodies of the archers were changed through use. The muscles in the shoulder are not used commonly in the same way a bow requires them to be used. Through years of work these muscles in the shoulder become significantly larger than as seen in the human body today, the strength required even carrying through to the skeleton. Through inspiration from Heather Cassils the piece has also developed into a metaphor for the battle that we face within society to display ourselves physically and confidently, as we are always under a scrutinizing gaze in anything we do. “The image that an individual has of his or her body also largely determined by social experience… Media imagery may be particularly important in producing changes in the ways that the body is perceived and evaluated.” (Grogan, 1999)From the beginning of the module I’ve had an interest with a performance involving the human body as a main piece of the installation. After our week of studying Marina Abramovic I found her piece of work Thomas Lips fascinating, how she dealt copious amount of damage to herself including slicing a pentagram into her stomach with a razor blade and performing self flagellation, all of it to push the body to its limits in multiple fashions. “she ate a kilo of honey, drank a litre of red wine, broke the wine glass… used a shard to cut the star on her stomach, whipped herself until she no longer felt pain” (Carlson, 2010) What fascinated me was the aspect of using the body as the performance. Everything that she did was of course a performance but it’s that it was done to her own body to see what it could do. It was like the body was being used as a blank canvas to see just how much paint could be applied before the frame sagged and the colours chipped. That is where my first concept of performance came from. I was to stand outside of the gallery in a space designed like that of an artist’s studio or apartment, keeping it simple to a few things like a sink, mirror, chair and desk and then use my own body as a canvas but in a much more literal sense. I was to create a statement that the human body itself is a work of art with so much detail to every square inch of it. “I start realizing that I can use any material I want. Fire, water, and the body and the moment when I start using the body it was such an enormous satisfaction.” (Khan Academy, 2010) What I also wanted to incorporate within the performance was a view I’ve had that the art world is very reluctant to accept new works of art as being fantastic pieces of art and that they herald some classic art work with such acclaim which I don’t truly understand, this being shown through the creation of art on my body, to be painted over and replaced with another attempt at artwork for the public’s consumption. Though I loved both of my concepts for performance I have to agree with my lecturer when they said that my first idea was a slightly pretentious.
The concept of my performance changed entirely for the better and became a much more action and aggression orientate piece to show the effort and damage that the use of weapons took on the body. We don’t see warfare as close to home as was seen when the weapons were in use so it’s under appreciated the length of a battle and just what it demanded of the warrior. I wished to perform a duration piece which in turn took a toll on my body and exhausted me as well as mentally broke me. I performed 3 routines, a weapon for each routine and each session will last for an hour with a short break between each one. I’m not going to go through the routines fast but slowly instead so as to try and perform the routine perfectly each time as a warrior in battle must be perfect, unless they want to die that is. But also by going slowly I am not able to use the weapon’s momentum to rest my muscles. Most weapons are designed to not stop moving as stopping the weapon in mid swing causes you to pull your muscles against all the weight of the weapon, causing unnecessary strain on the body. Through the extended use of the weapons over the hours my body should begin to sagged in posture, my extremities shook from strain and Il sweat. All of which will added to the final image I wanted to create of a tired, battle-worn warrior.
Heather Cassils is a female body builder living in Los Angeles USA. Her work as a performer works as a great representation of how the body itself is a tool for performance and something that can be moulded through great pain and effort. One piece in particular sees her create artwork which she literally pours blood, sweat, tears for. The piece Becoming an Image saw her beating a 2,000 lb block of clay into a shape using strikes from her body “Cassils unleashes an attack on a 2000 pound clay block. Delivering a series of kicks and blows in total darkness, the spectacle is illuminated only by the flash of a photographer” (Heather Cassils, 2013). She kicked it, punched, it and threw it around and all the time she did so she recorded her sounds of exertion which played a part in her final exhibition. The clay sculpture was displayed at the One archives in Los Angeles, the oldest active LGBTQ archive in the USA. It was displayed along with 12 photographs of Heather as she was creating the art, her body being pushed to its limits and the recording of her noises of exertion were played on loop as well to give the viewer a true feeling of the effort that it took from her body to create such a piece of art work. “Ghost is a 4-channel sound installation which recreates the sounds of the artist’s breath, blows, grunts, and pulse rate during one performance of Becoming An Image” (Heather Cassils, 2013). We hear Cassils darting from one corner to the other and circling the listener like a ghost. One of her pieces that I have taken a lot of inspiration from is her Hard Times piece. In it Heather poses, taking on the appearance of Tiresias, in a bikini and a wig, posing in body builder poses. She moves through the poses incredibly slowly, tensing her muscles to the point where the spasm in a grotesque manner. I wish to take this movement for my performance in order to highlight the muscle groups that are under stress from the use of the weapon.
So something interesting happened whilst I was rehearsing for my performance. I was working through my routine for the Viking sword and I had packed. I’m looking at my phone and I hear “excuse me sir, do you mind taking a step back” I get the hand clamped on my wrist and I find the police have been called on me. Two male officers were there and one female officer. The one holding onto my wrist asked me “What is it you’re doing here” or something to that extent and I explain that I’m rehearsing for a performance in the museum that I have in a few weeks time. As I think back in retrospect I’m sure that they were equipped to taze me if they saw fit to do so and with the rise of police brutality in America I’d like to say I got off lucky just being talked to. A member of the museum staff came out as I was being questioned by the police and backed up my story that I was a drama student with the museum and they seemed to go slightly laxer with me. The entire time however the officer who had a grip on my hand didn’t let go. I was asked “have you ever been in trouble with the police?” to which my obvious reply was “No, that’s why I’m a little terrified.” The officer holding my wrist commented “I thought so, your pulse had gone up a bit.” To be honest, I sit here writing this and my hands actually shake a little thinking about the moment itself. It’s funny that I knew I was doing no harm at all in what I was doing yet I somehow was made to feel so small and so helpless purely because there were two officers there questioning me about what I was doing. As they began to come around to the fact that I meant no ill will to anyone in the slightest they slacked off a little and allowed me to take my weapons home. Honestly I was worried I was going to end up spending the night in a cell of some kind.Originally I chose a place holder name for the performance, the very general name “The Warrior” which of course was beyond pretentious and it was made evident in my dress run when I heard a mother say to her child “Come and look here, this man’s a warrior. Wow”. What this made me realise though was that the word “warrior” brings the mental image of a strong character to mind and I didn’t want to bring a character into the audience’s mind but a concept, the concept of battle. Heather Cassils bases a lot of her work around a character within Greek mythology “Tiresias” using the character to further her themes of image and being one of the most formidable and simultaneously one of the vainest groups of people in history I felt I had to follow this trend and name my performance something in Greek mythology. It would have been simple to name it Ares after the God of war or Cronos, the destructive Titan. However what I wanted was something that more embodied the spirit of war and battle itself. So I settled with Polemos, the divine personification of war itself. If I were to have picked a figure like Ares I feel that the performance would be like I was attempting to impersonate or even become that figure but that’s not what the piece represents, it represents battle itself as a whole.
On Wednesday 22nd April I had my dress run so to speak with my performance and it was interesting to say the least to begin to see the performances around the museum take shape. I had my dress at 10:15 or at least it began at that time. Something I didn’t take into account about the performance was the aspect that me entering the space and setting up is a performance in itself so I realized that I need to go over my beginning of my performance and practise the setting up, the cleaning of the weapons and the tidying of the bags. The performance itself, that had been the first time I’d properly attempted the performance and I realized I still have a lot of work to go on myself physically. During the performance I found that I was gradually getting faster as I went as it was easier and less strenuous to go through the movements fast., but I had to force myself to perform slowly as forcing my body to go through this strain is what the performance was about. Around half an hour or so into the performance I found the movements began to blur and almost hypnotize myself. Around the same time (I’m estimating times as I had no way of keeping time) I felt that I was beginning to push my limits as my limbs felt heavy, my hand shook, on one occasion when I pivoted on my left foot I didn’t twist my foot properly, and a sharp pain ran through my knee I worried that I had seriously damaged my knee somehow so that was something I made a mental note to watch out for in the actual performance. The sword I feel (apart from the pain the bow inflicted on my fingers) has been the most difficult weapon to endure for the hour. The axe was be easier even though the weight is all at the end it is a lighter weapon overall. The practise run in the space also taught me that I needed to prep the actual space itself. The map, I either needed to wear some form of footwear even if it was just socks, or I needed to clean the floor. My feet were covered in black and they were destroyed from sliding along the floor for an hour straight, even after the rehearsal. An issue I really needed to address immediately was hands for safety reasons, the prolonged use of the weapons caused me to sweat and the handle became slippy. So I contemplated wearing gloves which could have taken away from the simplicity of my appearance or carrying a cloth on my person so that I can wipe my hands which would take away from the endures strain that I’m trying to out my body through. In the end I went with the gloves as I felt that it added to the image of the battle and war as the gloves I used were protected knuckle gloves almost like some form of armour.
After hours of using weapons in the gallery, the performance is finally over and I feel quiet melancholy about the entire experience as I was very much enjoying it. I wish that we had been allowed to use the entire day to perform rather than the 3PM cut off that we were told that there was as another group of some form was to use the space. By cutting off after only 4 hours I feel that the performance lost a lot of its meaning however my aching muscles and bones would say otherwise. I feel that the performance overall was a success in that the duration of the performance did begin to take its toll on my body and my mind to an extent. I didn’t realize until after the performance that I had convinced my own mind that everything had to be perfect so whenever there was an imperfection in the routine I was aggravated at myself, even though becoming tired and making mistakes was the entire point of the performance. I was so focused on the routine that it was the only thing in my mind, as though I had hypnotized myself into a state of concentration as I even found that when I was using each weapon that after a short time I completely forgot about any fatigue on my body. In retrospect I feel that the performance could have been done without any breaks in the middle and this would have increased the performance’s outcome significantly in that I would have been performing for 4 hours straight which would have truly destroyed my body. Should I get the chance to perform more endurance pieces in the future I will bear in mind that the human body can be pushed to incredible limits when the mind is broken. Many people came and went with varying responses to the performance. A lot of children showed interest, trying to get my attention before realizing that I wasn’t going to give them the attention that they desired. On the opposite side there were many adults who came by the exhibit throwing quizzical looks my way, a few taking the time to record or photograph me. Overall I’m glad that the entire performance is over but of course I’m sad to see it finished, I’ll be looking for opportunities in the future to perform in similar styles hopefully.
- Carlson, M. (2010) Performing Bodies in Pain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Khan Academy. 2010.Marina Abramovic: The Body as Medium . [Online]. Available from: http://tinyurl.com/l2pxp32 [Accessed 15 May 2015].
- Heather Cassils. (2013). Becoming an Image. [Online]. Available from: http://heathercassils.com/portfolio/becoming-an-image-2/ [Accessed 15 May 2015]
- Keene, S. (2006). All that is solid? – Museums and the postmodern. Public Archaeology 5, 3. pp 185-98.
- Grogan, S. (1999) Body Image. London: Routledge.