Finding the body

I can’t remember where I read it. Perhaps someone mentioned it to me. The idea that there is "no such thing as coincidence". Life is, instead, full of meaningful happenings and signs and events to be interrogated for their underlying significance. A bit ‘hippy’ perhaps? It seems we can statistically explain coincidence (see this analysis for example), but where – Darren Brown aside - is the fun in that?

Last week, I spent quite some time looking at all the exhibitions and performances I could attend at the weekend in London. In the end, I went to none of them. I did, however, accompany my partner, Ed Straw to Russian TV on Sunday, where he was to be interviewed on Going Underground about the new Labour Leadership (luckily having shaved off his Jeremy Corbyn look-alike beard just days before).

The view from RTV's office in Millbank Tower was spectacular (note the lovely row of red buses across the length of the second bridge). But due to the Tour of Britain (last spotted in Nantperis), everything was running behind schedule, so I popped next door to Tate Britain. A huge queue of people awaiting tickets for the ‘Sensorium’. Intrigued, I joined the queue for a few minutes before finding out it was sold out. With 20 minutes still to squander, I wandered into the first room. There the first – and only – thing I saw was an excerpt of a work by Katrina Palmer that blew me away.

Her work, the Quarryman’s daughters, was developed as part of an Artangel residency on Portland. The three framed photos (above), don't look much, but they are just enough when set with the beautiful, disconcerting soundtrack, complete with fantastic lines such as “It is our assertion she would have been less physical in a less elemental context”. I found myself enjoying the connections to my Digging Down project – presence and absence, memorial and forgetting, physical connections with space and place and quarrying, the place of women in an environment shaped by geology and (quarry)men. The way that she mixes fact and fiction, different voices, stories and details is compelling.

You can listen to the three soundtracks, and find out more here

I have since read that Katrina "proposes extended forms of writing as sculpture", and that she "explores sculpture's association with bodily presence on the one hand and death/memorial on the other". From my point of view, she succeeds one hundred percent.

And this emphasis on the physical, on being aware of the body, interacting with spaces and history around it, continued when I finally got into the the Tate Sensorium the next day. I had returned to the Tate first thing, survived a bit of middle class anxious jostling, and secured a timed slot.  

Four people go into the sensorium at once (hence the timed slots, the queues etc). You are moved around to experience 4 different paintings accompanied by smells and sounds and (in one mind-blowing case), taste.  I was, to be honest, a bit skeptical. Not really keen on post-fitting experiences to existing works. And big danger of it all being a bit obvious (pledge smell to accompany Richard Hamilton’s Interior II for example).  And to some extent, those concerns stand in terms of experiencing the paintings presented, and I wished they’d made the room colder for John Latham’s Full Stop. But I found the sensory experiences attached to the last one, Francis Bacon’s A figure in a Landscape, quite brilliant – so much so that I brought the accompanying scratch and sniff post card. (yes, really, and it’s surprisingly effective).

What was particularly interesting, though, aside from feeling a little ‘processed’, and a little 'sold to' with the scratch and sniff postcards and a personalised print out of recommendations for art works you’ll like based on your physiological responses - was to compare variance between the results of your physiological reactions (measured through a wrist band) and those of others. You can see in mine that my reaction to Figure in a Landscape (top left) went way beyond the 'average' reaction of previous visitors....

The real benefit of it though, became obvious to me while wandering around the galleries afterwards. I was surprised by how much more physically affecting the works had become. I experienced strength, skin, temperature, taste, sound, smell, claustrophobia… My whole body was involved, and I was much more present as a result of it. Co-incidentally, rather like the results of 6 months of psychotherapy, come to think of it.

So where am I going with all this body-present coincidence?

On Friday this week, and over the weekend, I’m hosting a pop up restaurant, a ‘stand’ in the marquee and an open studio to celebrate our local fair, Gwyl FFair Nant. I’m want to use the opportunity to dig a bit further down into things touched on during my Digging Down project, working with the objects found in the middens in my garden, supported with an R&D grant from National Theatre Wales. But I especially want to ‘find the body’ in the work: upping the opportunity for multi-sensory stimuli and responses, while asking:

-       Which – if any – aspects of this ‘trysor’ (treasure, or if you prefer, bits of old rubbish) appeal to you, and why?

-       Do you collect – or keep - things you find? On a walk along a beach, do you get drawn to a particular bit of washed up plastic or pebble or shell? Do you pick up interesting things you spot on the pavement in a town, or in a skip or in a river flowing through it? What about bits of old pottery or old bottles or twigs or coins? 

-       Do you know why you do it (or why you do not)?

-       Do you only do it in some places/circumstances? And if so, which and why?

-       Why do you get drawn to one thing and not another? Is it visual? The weight? The feel? The connotations or associations? The value? The stories?

-       What does all this tell us about ourselves?

The Oren pop-up restaurant in the barn, on Friday (18th Sept) is fully booked. But come and join us, 11am on Saturday 19th, in the main marquee at Gwyl Ffair Nant (LL55 4UL). Bring your body, as well as your mind!

[Sensorium continues at Tate Britain until 20th September 2015]