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Inextinguishable Fire – by Cassils

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’.

And they were.

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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

Cassils // Inextinguishable Fire – Trailer from stichting MU on Vimeo.

 

 

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‘Is it a bird…? Is it a Plane…?’ DIY 11: 2014

After doing a DIY Workshop last year through the Live Art Development Agency I decided to apply for another workshop this year. The one that really caught my eye was run by performance artists The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein and Martin O’Brien.

Along with fellow participants Katy Baird, Sophie Cullinan, Ria Hartley and Emelía Antonsdóttir Crivello, the idea of the superhero as a catalyst for performance making was explored. My boundaries were well and truly pushed from the get go as we learned hip hop dances, frolicked in washing up liquid (not that I could let go enough to do much frolicking!) and recited Hamlet to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star.

I learnt a lot about myself over the three days, particularly about my attitude to success and failure. The tasks were specifically hard for me as I operate under the assumption that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, that I need to constantly be in control of myself and my surroundings and on some perverse level enjoy constantly telling myself that I am doing it all wrong and failing. The workshop helped me to see how ridiculous these notions are and that the most interesting situations that open up a dialogue revolve around things going wrong, almost reaching their goal but not quite and just generally failing.

The three days were finished off with a photo shoot in which we show-cased our developed superhero characters. Mine was Kyphosisa (Kyphosis being the medical term for a hunch back which I have a mild case of). She represents the acceptance of flaws and failure, showing that when we finally do this great, powerful things can happen.

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The whole experience was incredibly mind altering and where I had previously been using other bodies in my work I finally realised that my own body signified the same things, generic success in the sense that it’s able, relatively fit and white. I had previously wanted to train myself to the standard of  a bodybuilder and use this point from which to create work and a discourse, however I now realise there is much a more interesting space in which to do this with my body as it is now. This has prompted me to do a performance myself which I will talk about in my next post.

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Bring Your Own Beamer

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.

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French Beaded Flowers

I am a member of the Reigate Antique Society, a group that meets up once a month. Each month a different Antiques expert provides us with an exciting talk in their specialism.

For this last July’s talk we did something a little different and members were invited to talk about their own collection or something they were passionate about. I decided to speak about French Beaded Flowers as I have been enamoured with these creations since I first learned of their existence a couple of years ago.

French Beaded Flowers – A history

French beaded flowers are small glass beads strung on to a fine wire and then fashioned in to various blooms. Because they are so pliable it is possible to create pretty much anything within your imagination with the use of a small number of tools and a great deal of patience. In the days before it was possible to purchase any and every type of flower from a florists, these beaded flowers provided a practical and exotic way to decorate your home, use as a wedding bouquet, or like the piece I own, used as funeral wreath or ornament.

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This is my beautiful beaded flower wreath in pride of place in my bathroom! Note perfume bottle for scale, it’s pretty big.

One of the reasons that flowers are associated with churches has to do with beads. In the thirteenth century a form of prayer using a string of beads was instituted by St. Dominic. The string, called a rosary, consisted at that time of 15 units of beads. Each unit contained 10 small beads, preceded by one larger one. A prayer was recited at every bead. The word “bede” (sp) is Middle English for “prayer.” Because of the length of the original rosary, it became customary to pay someone, usually a resident of an almshouse, to recite the prayers. These people were referred to as bede women or men, and it was they who made the first bead flowers. The craft was handed down through the centuries and came to be associated with the church and its decorations.

The art of making flowers out of beads is centuries old however there is very little documentation on the development of this art. Many books can be found of different flower patterns but only from about the 40s onwards.

According to references of beaded decorations, it is thought that the technique began as early as the 1300s in Germany when steel needles and wire were developed, and around the 1500s in Europe, predominantly, Italy and France. The peasants would collect discarded beads from the noble’s clothing and fashion them in to beautiful decorations. At one point there would be women sitting outside every door making these creations. In 16th Century Venice the poorer women would make money creating beaded flowers for churches, parade floats and banquet tables. I quite like the idea that they would be selling back to the upper classes their own discarded beads in banquet bouquets!

Different methods were developed over the years, the Victorian method, also known as the English or Russian method, and the French method. The main difference is that in the Victorian method, which is similar to modern bead jewelry-making techniques, the thread or wire passes through each bead twice or more, and the wire passes from row to row on the sides of the piece; in the French method, the wire passes through each bead only once, and passes from row to row in the center or on the bottom of the individual piece. I believe this makes the French beaded flowers more beautiful as they are more pliant and more life like.

Production of beaded flowers was no doubt advanced by the Industrial Revolution, which increased availability of glass beads of regular size and color. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, beaded flowers were sometimes used in ornate funerary arrangements, where wired beads made up flowers and could also be wrapped around a metal framework. These were perfect for use during winter months when fresh flowers were not readily available, and they were long lasting without the need to be watered or replaced. The Victorians are most likely responsible for the introduction of the French beaded flower funeral wreaths as they fit perfectly in to the elaborate mourning rituals inspired by Queen Victoria’s grief over the death of her beloved Prince Albert. This type of artistic expression of mourning would have been popular along with the jewelry items holding a lock of the deceased’s hair which we have heard about in previous talks. The mourning wreaths would be in muted purples and blues, like the one I have brought along today.

After the Second World War beadwork of this kind gained its greatest popularity, with instruction kits being sold complete with materials and patterns, and department stores such as Marshall Fields and Bloomingdale’s sold beaded flowers imported from France. Famous French beaded flower owners include Marie Antoinette and Princess Grace.

Virginia Nathanson helped introduce this craft to a new audience and codified the technique in 1967 with the publication of her book The Art of Making Bead Flowers and Bouquets. She herself had purchased a bouquet of beaded flowers in a department store and took it aprt in order to understand how it was put together and began making them herself. Nathanson advocated beaded flowers for sale through mail order because of their “indestructible” nature. Testament to this is my own piece which was brought back from the South of France and has travelled around with me with no trouble. If it ever looks like the petals are drooping you can just rearrange them.

More recently French Beaded flowers were used to make wreaths commemorating 9/11. With the help of the internet many beaded flowers makers contacted each other and all worked towards creating these large scale pieces, sending a flower or section of wreath from all over the world. These are currently on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York which earlier this year.

Another exciting contemporary project which used french beaded flowers was commissioned by the Swarovski Crystal company. In order to showcase their line of crystal beads they had a collection of beaded flowers made.

Value wise I am not sure monetary value of these pieces, obviously the Swarovski ones would be worth a fair bit but as Jean rescued the piece I own from a skip! I am not entirely sure of pricing.

It seems as though the craft is gaining a lot of popularity recently with people making their own bouquets and even this Hawaiian Garland. Each flower is hand-stitched, one tiny seed bead at a time, taking over 100 hours and almost 35,000 beads to complete.

Having recently purchased a book on the techniques to arrive so watch this space for my creations! I want to create something typically ‘masculine’ out of these beautiful, delicate flowers and am currently working on a wrestling championship belt!!

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Brighton ArtsFORUM – Feedback Circle Workshop

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.

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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.

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Fighting for Words

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Sketchbook Project 2013

At the beginning of this year I sent my little sketchbook off to New York as part of the sketchbook project.

The Sketchbook Project is a global, crowd-sourced art project and interactive, traveling exhibition of handmade books. Basically you send off for a book and can fill it however you so wish, then return it to The Brooklyn Art Library and they take the books completed each year on a tour around America in their mobile library van!

I started using the sketchbook as an ideas base for the Cubicle Creations project, and really enjoyed playing with collage and my theme of hyper-masculinity without the pressure of it being marked for academic purposes or anything like that. It is also nice to receive emails from different cities along the tour saying someone has viewed your sketchbook. I really like the fact the my little book is travelling to places that I have never been before!

I had also wanted to attach sound modules to the book, like the ones you get in cards that play you a tune, in order to have the pages grunting as you opened them. However I was a bit concerned about the book getting through customs, so that’s another idea to approach at a later date!

The Sketchbook Project 2013 from Jennifer Milarski on Vimeo.

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