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Bodily Changes

"the corpse which is both human and non-human, waste and filth which are neither entirely inside nor outside the socio-subjectve order, are examples of the abject."

- John Lechte (on Julia Kristeva).


This week I have been thinking more about the abject, morality and purpose. Specifically how these ideas surround our basic human need for survival so that we can reproduce and keep the population sustained (Darwinism), even though there is no reason for it. But this also means that (whether consciously or subconsciously), we must be aware of our mortality. In fact, the obsession with immortal beings (for example in BBC's Doctor Who and Bram Stoker's 'Dracula') and life after death (Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' and the pandemic of zombies in cinema) in literature and television displays this willing for survival ranks above all other ideas of purpose and meaning that we give to our existance. However, this survival instinct is what removes the divide between man and beast. If you were on a desert island with nothing to eat, would you resort to eating those around you to survive? Once your survival instinct has kicked in, cannibalism would draw the line between who is a strong survivor and who is not (survival of the fittest). But this is an idea that ultimately scares us. The ravinous animal inside us is something that we've removed ourselves from, our ego and self-awareness has made us convince ourselves that we are better than that, and society allows us (for the most part) to act like civilised beings. The horror of zombies comes from the idea of stripping us back to an animalistic state, the desert island survival, and the chaos that would insue as civilised society breaks down to reveal ourselves.


Olga Balema 'Cannibals' (2015)

Olga Balema's 'Cannibals' deals with this idea of the body and ingestion, dicussing how "As food moves through bodies, exterior becomes interior and vice versa; object consititutes subject and vice versa." I am interested in this bodily inception, of how meat and meat become confused with each other, and to me how this relates survival as the purpose of our lives, that we cannot avoid thinking about or discussing and yet also see as a taboo subject.


With this search into abjection, I found the ideas to be very much based around the uncanny, or rather that the uncanny became like an unavoidable bi-product of making abject artwork. The way the body is represented in lots of work still comes across as very familiar (because it is bodily or references the human form) but it alien as we do not actually know the body that way. It becomes both familiar and unfamiliar. With my work, I am hoping that this is what comes across. These organ-like forms are something we recognise as bodily but we are not familiar with the organs we have, we are not used to seeing them because they do not reach outside of our bodies. This body horror and repulsion comes from knowing that something is wrong if we see organs because they are not supposed to be seen, they our not supposed to leave their casing, as this would mean death. This comes round to referencing mortality.


This week has also been an experience of realisation in terms of thinking about my design ideas in relation to my philosphies and contexts and cutting out those that do not work. I was thinking about circulation and how I could pump air and liquids through a tube system. However, if I want to focus on mortality, then surely having something that suggests ongoing life would be sending an opposite message and would remove this aesthetic of dead meat that references our closeness to animals. This aberttoire imagery with discarded entrails and sacks hanging on hooks and chains disturbs us because we don't like to think about it or take responsibility for it, it is something that is ultimately evil. But I want to be careful not to fall into a discussion about the farming and meat industry because this is a discussion about human purpose and meaning (or lack thereof), rather than a animal rights protest piece. I was previously thinking about sewing together bits of latex to form a skin-like dissection wall piece, but after further thought, I don't see what this would add to the work. It doesn't have the same attraction and repulsion feeling as the liquid and fullness of the material is what makes people want to touch it, it would also become skin and not organs or meat and so removes its purpose. In terms of recording work, I have also thought about using photographs or videos but then I think this would take away the initial reaction and physical connection that the audience would have with it. It needs to be an object of desire and horror, not an image. This means that I should think of ways to preserve work rather than having the need to record to in the same way.


For my next step, I have to really think about whether or not I wish to tackle ideas of consummerist culture in my work. The ideas of bodily consumption and societal consumerism are two that go hand in hand, and would give me an opportunity to tackle another context. However, is this overcomplicating something that already works? The main question I have been battling with is 'does the need to buy things become a new purpose, now that we generally lack a religious system (and therefore a unifying belief system), and so becomes almost like a new god? Or does our need for material things stem out of a desire for a distraction from our knowledge that we lack no interesting purpose or meaning (now that we don't believe in a god that has a plan for us), does gathering objects fulfill the ego enough?'


This is something for me to reflect on over the next week.

I have also been thinking a little more about materials this week and have branched out into a new one - clay! I made a smallish sculpture from air-drying clay, acrylic paint, a sink plug chain, and spray-on gloss varnish. I wanted it to appear fleshy but also somewhat fecal, so it had wrinkles and and indentations, made into a cylindrical shape but also with a hollow bottom to allude to ideas of an anus. It made me laugh thinking about a turd with an arsehole. But I still wanted it to be bodily and fleshy so I decided to paint it a fleshy pink tone and varnish it to be almost wet-looking, as I still wanted it to be relevant to my current work. This fleshy mass, with digestive connotations, came around after having Balema's cannibal ideas in the back of my head, with the outside becoming the inside, but then also the insides also having insides (the hole through the middle). I think this work would need to be hung up high to really allow the audience to see the underside of it and fully understand it, similar to how Louise Bourgeois' 'Fillette' is hung. I would like to think about and work further with this imagery and material, I think maybe it could be interesting to fill a room with this sort of work.


But lets take it a step at a time and see what happens next.

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