Archive for category Hyper Masculinity
I haven’t written anything for a while but I felt compelled to do so after bearing witness to the breathtaking performance by Cassils at the National Theatre last night.
Having been a fan of Cassils for a while, initially due to their work Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, their work using bodybuilding and a passing into a hyper-masculine physique through it. I also had the pleasure of attending a talk by Cassils in New York at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and hearing about the film Inextinguishable Fire I was so excited to see a live aspect of this piece, not entirely understanding how this would materialise.
The performance began with Cassils topless on the stage with clothing paraphernalia around them, there was a good seven minutes or so before the professional looking men in boiler suits began methodically dressing Cassils in wet clothing which look liked thermal layers, as Cassils began to shake it became clear that these garments must be freezing cold. The soundtrack started to become impossible to ignore around the third layer of these wet items as what began as a low drone, similar to a helicopter flying low overheard, took on an even more bass like rumble, adding even more to the tension and feeling that something awful or wonderful was about to happen.
The preparation for the actual self-immolation took about fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity as our heart rates sky rocketed and you could see audience members clutching at each others hands. The whole theatre was undoubtably nervous, is there a possibility this could get out of hand and go wrong? Do our desensitised minds actually want that to happen, for us to be witnesses to a true self-immolation? As the team of three men finish preparing Cassils, with the last smearing of a vaseline looking substance to their face (it definitely can’t have been vaseline as that is flammable!) one the technicians lights a torch, like a wooden staff used to burn witches of old at the stake, and shouts ‘You’re on fire’.
The fire itself only lasted about 14 seconds but the act itself was so powerful that these 14 seconds stretched to an eternity as we all realised we were truly spectators to someone setting their-self on fire, no matter how many safety aspects were involved, this was truly happening, to a live human being, and we just sat and watched.
We were then led haphazardly outside, myself and my friend shakily walking at this point, to the other side of the National Theatre where the film of Inextinguishable Fire was projected on an outside wall. One of our key observations, that highlighted even further the importance to Cassils work and left us with a kind of desperate feeling for the human race, was that the passers by took no notice of the film, a few people would look up but no one stopped to see what was going despite the brightness and intensity of the film, the only people not from the original audience that seemed to be transfixed were small children. It was just such a poignant example of our desensitised selfs, the fact that we do see so much violence and pain inflicted on people and really just don’t care because it isn’t happening to us. It was also interesting to think if the film would’ve had the same effect if I hadn’t seen the live action immolation moments before.
I have never had such a strong reaction to anything in my life! And I think this was the purest and most engaging way to remember, on the apt Sunday of Remembrance. When something is ingrained with so much suffering and history, monks setting themselves on fire in protest, women being persecuted because men fear them, children in agony because of another pointless war, it just cannot fail to change your way of thinking, even in the slightest way. I often think that our generation is the least capable of empathy because in the Western World we are in danger of having no idea or connection to what it feels like to truly suffer and any suffering that happens around us is so disconnected from us in that we only engage with it through a screen, which we can ultimately X out of at any point.
‘When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you’ll shut your eyes. You’ll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you’ll close them to the memory. And then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.’ – Harun Farocki
© Huw Bartlett 2014
I have just finished an intense 3 weeks as Curator in Residence at the Community Arts Centre, Brighton. Despite a few suggestions against it I decided to start off the 3 weeks myself and invited two artists, whose work I admired and felt could benefit from the space and bring something different, to each have their own week. As I may have previously explained, the Work Programmes at CAC begin on the Monday with the ceremonious handing over of the keys to the artist and finish with an exhibition on the following Saturday.
I am particularly in love with the space and the freedom and inspiration that it provides and enjoy the thrill on a Saturday night of wondering just how differently people will interpret it. As I had already done a work programme last year (click here to see images from the previous year) I was quite apprehensive about how I would interact with the space this time, I was concerned that I would end up repeating things from last year and that it would pale in comparison. In actual fact I did end up mirroring (literally) certain things from the previous year as it felt like a progression of ideas in each room.
Whereas last year I had a physique bodybuilder performing, this year I performed myself. Following on from the confidence I had gained during the LADA workshop the previous week I knew that it had to be me and although this proved to be an extremely daunting experience, and in the week leading up to the exhibition and I constantly questioned if I was making massive mistake, but no matter how nervous I got I knew that there was no way that I wasn’t going to do it. Painting my nails pink, getting a spray tan, putting on the wig and then finally the bikini I covered up the ‘me’ aspects so that all that was left was my physical form, which could be any successful white body in terms that it is healthy, physically able, well nourished, not obese etc.
The performance itself took place over two hours and the audience where invited in for a one-on-one experience. My boyfriend was the bouncer on the door making sure that people waited their turn and I quite like the connotations that go alongside him being the one who allows others to look at me, there’s a kind of pimp dynamic and once inside the room has red lighting and a golden throne chair for the viewer to sit on, making it almost a peep show or lap dance type environment. The emphasis wasn’t on the sexual however, with farcical exaggerations of grandeur such as the ‘gold’ jewellery I was wearing, the clearly not my own hair blonde bombshell wig, the idea was more towards the failure of sexiness. I don’t have abs, so I had drawn them on with eyebrow pencil, I don’t have large bicep muscles so the bodybuilding poses that I was mimicking were exactly that, a mimicry, a parody or poor copy. The fake smile (which I almost lost quite near to the start due a twitching cheek muscle!) and everything about the performance was essentially fake.
Images © Alice Tenquist
For this years Brighton Digital Festival I took part in Bring Your Own Beamer at The Corn Exchange. I was one of about 20 artists who were selected to have fixed installations at the show whilst in the middle of the venue the usual brining of your own beamer took place.
I exhibited my M E N projection mapped project, initially created for my MA show and shown also at my first solo show at Community Arts Centre. I particularly enjoyed displaying this piece in the Regency surroundings of the corn exchange and opted to display the work under the watchful eye of a giant ornate mirror. Mirroring (ha!) the reflective plinths that I used in my first showing of this piece.
Bloody fantastic exhibition! Heavy Weight History consists of Polish power lifters attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to lift politically rife monuments around Warsaw. Documented in the form of a reality TV show, much like World’s Strongest Man (one of my favourite TV programmes!) the work questions the continuing relevance of public statues, and uses the rich historical backdrop of Poland as the stage to do so. Being of Polish heritage myself I have often visited Warsaw and have specifically visited a lot of the statues in the work.
It is interesting to think about these large symbols of communist oppression, such as statues and buildings that are left behind and forced on the locals and the meaning that they now signify. I’m thinking specifically about The Palace of Culture in Warsaw, the so called ‘gift of the Soviet nations to the Polish people’, which is still widely despised by the Polish and yet is a massive tourist attraction and landmark to outsiders.
Brighton Arts Forum provides feedback for photography and lens based projects. I attended one of these feedback circle workshops as part of Brighton Photo Fringe and took along some film stills of a recent bodybuilding competition.
It is great that events like this exist as for artists like myself, freshly out of academia without the support and advice of your peers, there are not as many opportunities to present unfinished projects in a critique situation.
The series of film stills, which I have titled Store Menn for a number of reasons, capture distorted moments from the initial judging of the mens physique category. The title comes from my own impressions of the men being on display, almost as if for sale, being judged and paraded around akin to a cattle market. Also store menn in Norwegian means big men and there is no doubt that these hyper-masculine forms are larger than life.
For three days in August I got up close and personal with a group of fellow artists in a DIY workshop organised by performance artist Kira O’Reilly . Part of the Live Art Development Agency’s DIY 10:2013 initiative to enable ‘unusual professional development projects conceived and run BY artists FOR artists’, Kira’s particular workshop was titled ‘Thinking Through the Body. Combative Manifestos’. This appealed to my continuing investigation in to what the body is capable of and specifically I was drawn to the idea of working with my own body. The workshop proved to be physically and mentally challenging. For the duration of the workshop we wrestled, grappled and circuit trained with the idea of manifestos and words of intention in mind whilst exhausted. The parallel between the urgency of a manifesto and the urgency of trying to think and formulate words whilst exhausted was interesting, in both cases you are left with the pure and necessary. What needed to be said at that moment.
Me getting my arse kicked by fellow artist Tom.
Towards the end of the workshop we began to think about how the skills we had learnt could be used in a performance. These ideas recently spawned in to an exhibition organised and curated by Anais Lalange at the Resistance Gallery in London. This chance to develop ideas and present them to an audience enabled me to hone in on my feelings around the workshop, namely my attitude towards sweat and not constantly upholding a perfected visage. Traveling from the workshops each day on the tube whilst still sweaty and with no make up on was, at first, an uncomfortable experience for me. It quickly became liberating and highlighted just how ingrained and ridiculous societal pressures for the way we look are, these ideas are reflected in the film, Wordout below.
The exhibition included performances by:
Joseph Mercier and Jordan Lennie – How I remember it, a recounting of their recent performance piece Rite of Spring, a fight lasting the duration of the 100 year old, controversial piece of music by Stravinsky. They spoke of the oddness of how quickly the audience became accustomed to the violence and took sides, cheering for the men to tear each other a part. They also explained that due to the intensity of the fight they would not be repeating the performance.
Hellen Burrough and Philip Bedwell – Hellen reads The futurist manifesto of lust by Valentine De Saint-Point whilst Philip increases the intensity of a choke hold on her until she can longer breath or speak. The piece is very moving as the words are reflected in the tenderness of the embrace, which although violent is akin to lust in it’s intensity and intimacy. The fulfilment of lust is in itself a violent act ‘We must stop despising Desire, this attraction at once delicate and brutal between two bodies, of whatever sex, two bodies that want each other, striving for unity.’
A group performance combining a minute of repeated excercise with a minute of manifesto creating (completing sentences from a given few words) dictated by MMA coach James Duncalf (who was our teacher of all things fight-y during the workshop) and carried out by the following artist – Hamish MacPherson, Laura Burns, Anais Lalange, Hellen Burrough, Philip Bedwell and Jungmin Son.
MMA coach James Duncalf giving an example of one of the exercises, Photo courtesy of Alistair Veryard
Anais and Laura – Anais reads as Laura restrains her. The exertion of constantly trying to battle and resist is heard in her voice and a further urgency is given to the words.
Finally Hamish and Laura fought out their thoughts around the idea of a manifesto.
The film that I created for the event was a reflection on the words that had gone through my head during the workshop, my attitude to sweat and the idea of words as motivator and catalyst. I used a mixture of words I had written during the workshop and those which had stood out to me since. I particularly liked the idea of words associated with battle, and was drawn to quotes from films such as Conan the Barbarian and 300. These films depicting hyper-masculinty and violent strength bring to mind the feeling of working out, and reflected the feelings conjured up in myself when I was wrestling with the other artists. The film also dealt with my feelings around body image and I feel the quest to achieve ‘the perfect body’ is really an inner voice calling out for warrior days, when humans could hunt and bodily contact was a way to communicate the entire spectrum emotions.
As part of the exhibition Glitch moment/ums at Furtherfield Gallery an online exhibition 0P3NR3P0, is asking for glitchy submissions.
I submitted the film below. It was originally made to be projected in to a book (this project is still under construction and will be in an exhibition in September so more info to follow) and consists of male bodybuilders trapped in their little boxes, forced to consistently perform their poses for the viewer.
Another favourite of mine from the online submissions was the one below by Lisa Cianci:
I hope to visit the full exhibition before it finishes on the 28th of July, but lets get this MA show out the way first!