12/03/17 Live Performance, Catharsis03 reflection:
Photo credit – Arestoteles Kara, Low Stakes Festival 2017.
A year and a half ago, I made Catharsis02, a film that documents me breaking sculptures that were initially made in response to my chronic pain and reflected my fragile body. In breaking these sculptures, I sought to accept my body’s delicacy and the guarantee of it’s decline.
Since then, my physical and mental illnesses have prevented me from making work, which has only made things more difficult. In my first work since Catharsis02, I invited strangers to watch me piece myself back together by tying up portions of the broken sculptures. I requested that the viewer sit close to me and stay with me for the length of time it takes me to piece a portion of myself back together. Once a portion of the ceramics were tied, I attached a sealed note containing a part of myself not told to anyone: a reason I need piecing back together. Should the viewer wish to unburden me of this secret, they could remove the note, read it, and take it away with them, but I asked that they give me a piece of their pain in return by tying their own secret in place of mine.
If Catharsis02 was about accepting my death, then this performance sought to explore why it is that I’m far more comfortable with death than I am with piecing together my living self.
Each viewer first watched Catharsis02, before sitting close to me and helping me in completing the narrative. The performance was 3.5 hours long. During this time, 5 friends and 10 strangers sat with me, 9 of which elected to read my secret and left me with their own. The space itself was dark and enclosed, where viewers joined me one-on-one (or in very small groups) in order to protect the intimacy of the process for both of us. This was my first live performance, as opposed to being filmed privately. Catharsis03 needed to be performed live in order to break down the physical and emotional isolation from which it was born.
The act of tying itself was unrehearsed and extremely difficult. Having only one hand it took me a long time to tie each bundle and required the use of my elbow, legs and mouth; an appropriately full bodied process. Putting myself together emotionally was never going to be easy and this was echoed in the difficulty of the physical process. On 2 occasions, I asked a viewer to tie a knot for me when I struggled with string too short to catch in my mouth or elbow.
Though the tying itself was difficult, the process was incredibly therapeutic. The performance represented a lot for me personally; in carrying out this physical process, I was also piecing myself together emotionally, acknowledging the last 18 months of isolation and finally putting trust in art to help heal me once again. I was grateful for the viewers’ presence, but also the long moments of quiet solitude I had with the process, and all it represented.
After 3.5 hours, I was left with 15 bundles of tied ceramics, 9 unopened envelopes containing viewers’ secrets, a pile of broken sculptures yet to be tied, and a stack of my secrets not yet unburdened.
I chose not to read the confessions of each viewer at the time of the performance in order to give each person the comfort of anonymity.
In the days after the performance I felt slightly uneasy about the things I had shared. In my personal life, I am deeply private and so naturally felt some uncertainty after sharing with strangers. This unease about my own confessions prevented me from reading those of the viewers straight away. However, when I read the confessions two days later it was an incredibly cathartic process in itself and instantly dissolved the unease I was feeling about what I had shared.
Most confessions were a paragraph, one was a single sentence. Each one was so touching and beautiful that I was reduced to tears. The details of what each viewer shared with me will always be kept private and as such all I will say is that there is something very moving about allowing complete strangers to unburden me of untold intimacies and to in return, receive the most tender parts of them. This exchange allowed me to see that some of our pain was mutually experienced, and yet, we would never have known it otherwise.
The remaining pieces will be tied in part 2 of Catharsis03, which I hope to complete soon. The process will be repeated until all broken pieces of ceramics are put back together again as I myself am pieced back together and healed more with every performance.
Moving forward with this performance and my practice, the following points will be considered:
- What does it mean to have the most intimate conversations I have ever shared, yet they were conducted without words with complete strangers I may never again encounter? Yet, if my confessions remain in their possession as theirs have mine, we will always have tangible, intimate expressions of one another to hold on to.
- Strangers were given a confession of mine during the performance but my friends were not. To what extent can putting rules and boundaries on who can take part in the full performance affect its authenticity? Or, is it natural that the work comes with its own set of boundaries, given that it is, in part, an exploration of the bounds of my privacy?
- We were two strange bodies in an unknown, public space, sharing intimacies. Yet in my own home, my personal space, I return to being strictly private. What does it mean to have such polarising experiences when I am performing as myself versus being myself ?
- To what extent can work remain cathartic whilst at the same time answering a desire to push myself as both individual and artist? In this performance, pushing myself was to share more of myself than I have in past works and with that came some anxiety. Is it possible to exploit cathartic action?
Photo credit – Arestoteles Kara, Low Stakes Festival 2017.
Low Stakes Festival was curated by Edythe Woolley and Jack Ellis.