Unit 9 Submission
This year I focused on two main projects, a collaborative dance project for CSM Alive, and an Independent Project consisting of many different pieces of work around identity and self image. For this submission I have broken both projects into 5 sections: 1.Background, 2.Research, 3.Experimentation, 4.Realisation, and 5.Reflection. After both projects is a final reflection on my year as a whole.
For CSM Alive I have been working on a collaborative dance project exploring ideas of consumer culture, tribalism, and masculinity through the image of the suit. The project builds upon an earlier experiment from Dance Lab in Year 2. Ella, Kristina, Mo, and I created an 11 minute dance piece built around experiments we did with a clothing rack full of suit jackets. This piece explored ideas about image and masculinity, but was much more of a sketch performance. Kristina, Mo, and I all wanted to return to the piece in order to explore deeper, and expand on the ideas we had developed. In organising the project we also connected with Emily, Charlotte, and Cathy, who were all also interested in developing a dance piece exploring these same topics.
Bellow is a selection of clips from the original Dance Lab Performance. This was the base we began working from.
Much of our research came out of exploring cultural representations of the suit jacket. We looked at how suits (and characters that wear them) had been represented in films like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Glengarry Glen Ross. The film American Psycho quickly became a core element of research, both in its visual style, and in its cultural ideas. In approaching the suit jacket we were uniquely interested in its relationship to tribal identities that form around groups who wear suits. Bankers, detectives, lawyers, and other professions in which the suit becomes a uniform, signifying identity, power, money, professionalism, expertise, and masculinity. In turn the suit becomes a form of aspirational consumption, sacrificing money, individuality, and comfort in favour of image. American Psycho was a great example of this, detailing the deep connections between the suit, consumer culture, and the cult of masculinity these fictional Wall Street investors had formed.
The slideshow bellow is a collage of some of our research images. The collage is ordered so that it moves from familiar cultural representations, to more expanded possible variances of the suit. This is not necessarily the order we encountered the images in, but reflects how they were used in our process. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end)
In addition to looking at cultural examples, a lot of our research came out of our own anecdotal experiences and investigations. At the beginning of every devising session we would sit and talk about our ideas surrounding the suit and the themes we were interested in touching upon.
Bellow is an example of these notes. The image bellow is from after a session, so it includes both conceptual notes and dance notes. Every session I would take notes like this documenting our discussion at the beginning and the end of the sessions.
In addition to the discoveries that came out of these discussions we would also engage in improvisation sessions which focused on specific ideas or themes. During these sessions we would often make conceptual discoveries which would influence our approach. For example, the piece did not initially explore themes of consumerism, but in a specific improvisation we began exploring images that looked like shops full of suits, and the image of sorting through piles of suits on the floor. These visuals brought to mind the connections between self image and consumerist culture, and how buying and shopping is deeply connected to aspirational images that we want to present to others. This discovery, and others which came out of our improvisations, shaped our research alongside depictions of suits in popular culture
Our technical approach to making the work was driven by experimentation and improvisation. We built most of the work through sessions of improvisation. Following a discussion about the piece and its themes we would set specific concepts to investigate, and create different physical frameworks through which to investigate them. For example we may decide to spend a session exploring ideas of consumerism, while setting the physical frame work as starting from order and moving towards chaos, or working only in duets. After setting these ideas we would then engage in improv sessions, lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, which we would record. Following a session we would discus moments we were most interested in or excited by, new ideas to explore, or questions we still had. These discussion would shape later improvisations.
Bellow is a collage of images from some of these improv sessions. These images are all explorations of how to use the suits and the costume rails as transforming set elements. This included creating frames, building instillations, or creating representations of bodies. This is one area where our work was driven by experimentation, and then later shaped through storyboarding. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
Bellow is a filmed experiment around what we called “suit monsters”. This was a recurring interest we had in how the suits could be used to alter the human form or movement. This was a specific session we engaged in to refine this idea, after it developed organically in an earlier improvisation. Later in the process we addressed the use of tape, which was a material we used because it was something we experimented with during Dance Lab. We decided not to use tape, as it didn’t have a conceptual connection with the piece. Before lockdown we were planning on trying this idea again using silk ties instead of tape, which would have been the third stage in developing this idea.
Through this process of experimentation and improvisation we developed several hours of content and ideas (much more than our intended length for the piece), which we would then have to organise and curate into the final piece. We had begun this process by storyboarding, drawing each moment and arranging them freely to explore different structures. Bellow was the most recent storyboard we had created before lockdown. Our next step would have been to try the piece in this order and begin editing.
Through these processes of research and experimentation we eventually developed the specifics of our piece. Our intention was to make a 20 minute dance piece which would challenge the ideas of tribalism, identity, and aspirational consumption by expanding our cultural ideas of the suit. Initially the piece would present familiar images of the suit: dressing and undressing, corporate workers, and masculinity. These would slowly be juxtaposed with images that challenged or expanded the potential of the suit. It would be used to alter the form or movement of the body, challenge ideas of identity, reference people or bodies that are not present, or create sculptural installations. By moving from the familiar to the expanded and the posthuman, the piece would present new potential lives for the suit. This would challenge the audience to reconsider the position of clothing and consumption in their own lives, and present them with potential new ways of viewing both the suit, but also aspirational consumption at large.
The piece involves two costume rails, on wheels, which are part of both the scenery and the dance itself. On these costume rails are 30 different suit jackets, 10 pairs of suit trousers, and 10 white formal shirts, all hung on wire hangers. All of these elements fluctuate between being set pieces, props, and costumes. The piece was devised to be a part of CSM Alive in the Platform Theatre, however it was very much built to be a piece which can travel easily from theatre to theatre, or be performed in non theatre spaces. As a group we all agreed that the project would be most impactful if performed in public spaces in expensive and trendy neighbourhoods like Kings Cross, Holborn, Shoreditch, etc. These would be places where the audience may work corporate jobs, and may be areas whose identity is defined by big spending and frequent consumption. Prior to lockdown we had applied to perform the piece as part of a performance festival in Kings Cross, in one of the luxury apartments in Gasholders Park. We also were speaking to Peter Bond about performing as part of another potential festival of performance work around the Kings Cross Estate. As such the work was made to require minimal tech and be fully transportable.
Bellow is a short collection of some moments from our improvisations which we planned on including in the final version of the piece (either in this form or an expanded form). Please note that they are included not in the the order they would have been in the piece, that the music in these clips was music used for devising purposes (and not the final music chosen), and that clips involving tape would likely have used silk ties in place of tape.
For me this project was a continuation of my course long interest in devising collaborative performance, and movement and dance based performance. Many of the ideas and techniques used were continuations of skills I developed in Year 2 during Dance Lab. I feel that the project was deeply successful in that, unlike previous collaborative projects, our techniques for working together were incredibly successful. We constantly felt like a cohesive, supportive, and effective group. Our communication of ideas and intentions was clear and respectful, and the piece developed with input from all group members in all areas. The project had a strong structure, and moved along quickly and effectively. However the success of this learning was very much interrupted by Covid-19. Prior to lockdown the group agreed that we were doing an excellent job of generating material and experimentations, but were unsure of how we would go about structuring the final piece. We felt confident in our knowledge of the early stages, but didn’t yet know how to approach the final steps. We had begun structuring and storyboarding our final version of the show when the lockdown began, and this process was interrupted. I feel that this project was a chance to finalise some of my previous learning about creating collaborative dance work, specifically how to edit and structure successful dance performances (an area I feel I need to learn more about). However, it has been interrupted and left incomplete. Without access to our materials and a space to work together we were unable to complete this project, so as it stands currently my work and my learning in this area has been put on pause.
For my independent project I wanted to spend the year developing a self lead practice which I could continue after graduation. I ended Year 2 with the realisation that all the work I had made was dependent on university assignments, and that most of them involved sacrificing my own points of interest in order to work collaboratively. As such I wanted to spend a year developing my own personal practice, and making work which I found challenging and exciting.
The project did not begin with any intended outcomes. Instead I chose to allow myself, through research and experimentation, to discover what direction the project would take. I wanted to follow my interests in self image and identity, and I wanted to return to my previous photographic practice of creating self portraits on analogue film, which are then manipulated in the darkroom. Initially I had an inkling that the project may become a selection of performances dealing with self image and identity, inspired by my photographs and the process of creating analogue self portraits. However this initial plan changed throughout the year.
Bellow are some examples of my previous photographic practice. These images are all shot on analogue film, and then altered and layered through different processes of darkroom manipulation. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
My research started from an incredibly broad place. I knew I was interested in self image, and how we form ideas about ourselves, but I didn’t know in what way specifically. For my dissertation research I read Gen Doy’s Book Picturing the Self, and Didier Anzieu’s The Skin Ego. I also researched a number of photographers working with self portraits. I began to explore the potential lives of self portraits, and the different social and political connotations of photographing oneself.
Bellow are some examples of self portraits I researched for my dissertation, which went on to specifically influence my practice. (This is a Gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
I also became interested in the connection between the selfie and the self portrait, and explored how social media has impacted our relationships with ourselves. This research began to focus my work a bit more, and gave me more of a context for my own self portraits.
Bellow are examples of this research. Initially I looked at my own selfies, cataloging information like when I posted them, how many likes they got, or why I chose to post them. I then looked at my previous self portraits in a similar way, and wrote a short reflection. Finally I physicalised my research by creating collages out of my selfies. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
However my work continued to feel a bit unstructured, and I still didn’t know which direction it would take. I followed other subsequent interests in somatic movement (movement lead by internal sensation, rather than visual appeal), which I researched both theoretically and practically on film. Below is an example of this research. With help from charlotte and Emily I recorded several different approaches to making somatic movement. I also explored different ways of accompanying the movement with sound. I feel that the first version is most successful, as the inclusion of my own research and experiences helps to build an understanding of why the piece has been made.
I began to develop a better understanding for my work later in the year when I began looking at the work of photographer Zanele Muholi. Bellow are some of their self portraits that influenced me. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
Zanele Muholi is a non-binary photographer from South Africa, whose series of self portraits Somnyama Ngonyama had interested me during my dissertation research, but I had not looked at closely. I had been struggling with questions of specificity in representations of the self. I wanted audiences to be able to see themselves reflected in my work, in the hopes that it would encourage them to interrogate their own relationship with self image. Initially I thought that removing specifics about myself, my identity, and my background and instead focusing only on abstract elements of my relationship with myself, would help to do this. But I felt conflicted when looking at the work of Antony Gormley and Marc Quin. I felt that both these artists did that, but in doing so ended up operating under the assumption that their white male able bodied image was in some way universal, and that their image was applicable to anyone’s experiences of self image. Bellow are some works by Gormley and Quin that I feel illustrate this. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
In looking at Zanele Muholi’s work, which was incredibly specific and intentionally dealt with their identity as a non-binary person and a black person in South Africa, I came to understand the value and importance of these specifics. It is a privilege only available to white, able-bodied artists to see our image or our bodies as being a “neutral” or a “universal”, and our work as “apolitical”. Works by Black, Disabled, and POC artists are almost always viewed as political work because their bodies and images are so deeply politicised already. I decided that rather than trying to erase the elements of my identity which might contextualise my work, or pretend that my body or experiences are universal, I should instead be direct and clear about the specifics of my relationship to identity. Rather than trying to deal with my identity inside of a vacuum I felt it important to deal with my identity in relation to its real world contexts. This change in perspective has shaped the current status of my work, and I want to bring these specifics of my external social identity into conversation with the ephemeral internal elements I was interested in before.
I began lockdown with this new perspective on my work, and this in turn has shaped my research. Before this realisation I think I was hesitant to use my body to interrogate gender, and instead chose to erase my queer identity from the work. I began lockdown wanting to change that, but unsure of how to do so. It is still a question I am working to answer, but through research I have begun to form some possibilities.
I came across the work of photographer Paul Mpagi Sepuya, who has become a large part of my most recent research. His work centres around portraiture of queer bodies, referencing photography and photographic process throughout. Through his photographs he works to transform his studio into a space of queer celebration and exploration, interrogating not only the bodies and identities of others, but often his own as well. Similar to my practice his work focuses on layering, collage, and alteration of physical bodies. Unlike my work however he relies not on editing or photo manipulation, but instead on studio techniques, often using mirrors. Although not exactly the same as my process or interests, his work has helped me understand how I could use photography and performance to interrogate identity without feeling the need to erase or decontextualise my own experiences with gender and queerness.
Bellow are some examples of Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s work that have influenced my research. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
Most of my early experimentation dealt with how to develop my research and photography into performance work. In order to develop a reliable structure for my work I began to keep a notebook. Since coming to PDP I have been very resistant to different tutors encouraging me to keep a sketchbook, as I find drawing and sketching challenging, and don’t feel it is helpful for me in making work. However I realised that my notebook could be a place for writing and collage, which I have always found incredibly helpful. This book has become the core anchor for my process.
Bellow are some examples of writing I have done in my notebook. I work with a colour coded system. Green is for reflections on my practice, which I do regularly, I use blue and purple for lists of ideas or todo lists, and then each book I read has a specific colour I use to write notes and responses. Bellow is a reflection, notes on Gen Doy’s Picturing the Self, two lists of ideas, and a todo list. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
In addition to writing I use my notebook to experiment with collage. Bellow are some examples. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
Despite the success of keeping a notebook, I struggled to get my ideas into a performance context. I began by experimenting with light, shadow, and projection. These were interesting experiments, and although they helped me to understand what the visual language of my performances might look like, they did little to help me develop content for these performances. Bellow is a selection of highlights from these experiments.
Eventually I developed a potential structure for a performance, but in a tutorial with Rosas began to realise that I was limiting myself. The idea seemed very technically crowded and unclear.
Bellow are the storyboards for this performance idea. The performance consisted of taking a series of self portraits live in front of an audience, which would then be projected in the space. Following this I move to a body cast with contact microphones, and use it to create a soundscape as more self portraits fill the space. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
I realised that I had been depending on the technical elements of performance making that I felt comfortable working with, instead of interrogating my content. I also began to realise that my drive to create performance work was actually limiting me. Because of its familiarity I was trying hard to force my project into a live art context, instead of exploring other potential results that may feel unfamiliar.
After this I rethought this performance into a film and an installation (these ideas are included under the realisation section as speculative work). I had planned on creating them in the next few months, but had to adjust my approach after lockdown. Instead I returned to experimentation.
In response to the changes in my research that I mentioned earlier I became interested in layering and transparency. Because i couldn’t explore these ideas in the darkroom I began experimenting with digital collages of my work, altering the images digitally instead of physically, and exploring different ways to layer these images. Bellow are the works that came from this experiment. (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
Although I was still able to make work this way it felt very hollow in comparison to my darkroom work. Part of my interest in analogue photography and darkroom manipulation is the deeply physical element. Analogue images are made through different chemical reactions, always around light and shadow. In many ways it is a process of taking light particles, which have actually physically been in contact with my body, and altering and changing them continually to achieve a new final image. Digitally it felt like this reality was no longer true. It also meant that my limitations had expanded, which for me actually hindered my work. I think I get better results when I have to find ways to work around technical limits like the darkroom itself, rather than when almost anything is possible, like working digitally.
Following these digital experiments I began working with acetate. I wanted to see what would happen if I printed my images onto sheets of transparent acetate. I began working with the wrong kind of acetate initially, meaning the ink was unable to stick to the paper. This allowed me to experiment with transferring this ink to other surfaces, but it meant that none of my acetate prints were permanent. I did however make a number of prints on tissue paper. Bellow are some of my tissue paper prints. Please note that in person this prints are slightly translucent (wherever they are white). Unfortunately I was unable to represent transparent paper digitally (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
I also began experimenting with printing my work onto transparent fabrics. This idea was initially intended to be part of an installation for degree show (included as a speculative project in the Realisation section), but under these new circumstances I began to see other ways these materials could be used. Using some fabric samples I had ordered for the installation I made some short clips experimenting with the transparent images and water. Bellow are some examples of these experiments. I think further exploring this may be the next step I take in my practice.
The primary element of my work has been my self portraits. For me these images operated as a kind of physical research and idea gathering. However it would be wrong to ignore that they are also physical outcomes of my work this year. Bellow are the analogue self portraits I made this year (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
During lockdown I have used these images to create new prints on Acetate, which are then scanned digitally. These new prints bring in new layers of abstraction and colour, however because of the acetate I use they only exists digitally. Bellow are some of these acetate prints (This is a gallery, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
My most recent photographic works are a collection of scanned images exploring touch, and self soothing. I was struck by the realisation that I had not touched someone else since early march, meaning that I’ve gone four months without any physical contact (easily the longest I’ve ever gone without physical contact). This made me acutely aware of the importance of self touch, and self soothing. I created these images to document this awareness, and interrogate some of the differences between self touch and touch with others. Bellow are some of the images I created (This is a gallery, please scroll through).
Before lockdown, out of my research and experiments, I had developed a number of different ideas for final outcomes. My original plan had been to produce as many of them as I could over a short time period, and see what sort of results I had. Throughout the year I felt limited by over planning and over thinking, and intended to use this time to counteract that by making as much work as I could. However this was quickly interrupted. I decided to preserve these ideas as speculative projects, and hopefully will be able to execute them later on. Bellow are two of these projects I plan on returning to (These are galleries, please use the arrows to click through to the end).
This project has felt incredibly necessary, and I feel that the greatest success has been the development of a research led working method. At the end of Year 2 I felt very concerned that without projects from university I would be totally lost in making my own work. I also felt very concerned that I was making work that felt familiar but was not actually challenging myself. I was unsure that I wanted to continue making collaborative live art and theatre as I had been previously, and knew I needed to spend time making different kinds of work. In this sense I feel that the project has been successful. I now feel much more confident in my ability to create a working method on my own, which builds off of my own interests, research, and experiments. I also feel that I have challenged myself to make new kinds of work, and expand my own practice. That being said, I have very little realised work to show for it. This is due mostly to lockdown, however it is undeniable that because I was struggling in unfamiliar territory I was over considered and hesitant in actually making work. My time researching, planning, and thinking overtook my time actually making, and this means that I have very little work to show for my efforts. Although I feel that I haven’t produced much, I do feel confident in my ability to do so later. Although the assignment is over, I don’t feel that my working process has stopped at all, unlike other projects, and I feel confident that I can continue this project after University.
This year has been a difficult one for my practice. In both my projects I wanted to push myself outside of my zones of comfort, in order to develop this skills I felt I would need after university. Because I forced myself into this new territory I had a lot of trouble producing work. In CSM Alive I think I depended on improvisation as a safety zone, producing much more content than was necessary in order to avoid having to edit and structure the piece. In my independent project I was hesitant to make work, often second guessing my ideas before I could execute them.
That being said, I do feel I have gained more skills from this year than from the past two years. In the last two years I worked sporadically and without much direction or structure. However this year I have been very disciplined about my working methods, my research, and my plans for approaching my projects. I also have learned how to truly engrain my own research and interests into my work. which I feel has opened up what I might be able to make. These last few months of the year were, in the beginning, going to be a pivotal moment of facing the challenges I’d avoided having to tackle. Because of lockdown I don’t feel that I got the opportunity to address the areas I was most in need of additional skills and new learning. But I do feel that the rest of the year has been spent building skills that may help me tackle these challenges later on. I also am very excited about the new areas of research led photography and fine art practice that I have begun exploring. My work has shifted so much, and I am excited to find out what directions it will take in the future.