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Body – Image – Identity
Research & development projects exploring potential aesthetic and societal approaches to the human body through art, performance and discussion.
A series of research and development projects exploring the potential of a variety of aesthetic approaches to the human body through the creation of art, performances and discussions.
We are particularly interested in the complex relationship between body image, societal taboos and notions of containment imposed by our culturally defined beliefs and behaviours. A notion that becomes far more interesting when applied to LEVEL and our desire to explore the ‘Art that Difference Makes’ and the conditions that make it possible. In this context CONTAINER is provocative, political and to an extent, deliberately naïve – a collection of projects that can ask some interesting and some difficult questions and with permission to provide no answers.
“The body is our general medium for having a world.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
It is impossible to conceive of a world in which we are not contained in some way or another. Over time sapiens have developed a variety of societal norms, taboos, laws and practices that cannot fail, in some way, to have an impact upon our personal thinking and behaviour. It is easy to conclude that we are all, to a certain extent, contained through the forces brought to bear through our education, cultural upbringing and prevalent societal norms.
These are processed and shaped individually through our thought process and manifest in our behaviours. They fuse, morph and develop to help form our perceived identity and sense of individualism. However, for the most part we are mainly happy to accept some element of containment and do not often stray too far from common societal norms. Occasionally we grant ourselves licence to operate outside of these normal parameters and the art world provides many possibilities.
Art is a human creation allowing us to express ourselves in any way we wish. It provides artists a legitimate playground to explore and push the boundaries of our societal container. Here we may choose to attempt to break free of societal pressures and without a doubt some art can be very controversial. However, art provides choice – it may present and explore something but does not have the mandate to enforce a concept or idea. The audience/viewer can reject or accept, like or dislike, as they see fit and often make these choices as a result of societal encoding and the underlying influence of contemporary culture. Generally, in western culture, we accept that art can challenge us and artists can present ideas and ways of looking at our world that provoke thought and trigger a variety of strong personal emotional responses. We also must accept that this is culturally driven and that there are several different cultures each with its own level of containment.
A Williams 2020
The seeds of CONTAINER research & development project began at LEVEL in 2016 with the Fractured Ground Project. It has developed slowly over the years and has offered a strand of on-going research and means of personal development that artists and performers have been able to dip in and out of when possible. CONTAINER is not therefore a unified project or even a single idea but a collection of material and experiences derived from exposure to different working methods, personal & artistic interests, live experiments, conversations and on occasion, strange performances. The overall project is designed to provide a space in which we can push boundaries both personally and artistically. Emphasis is placed upon experiencing, learning and reflecting rather than the need to create product. Freedom to experiment, challenge and create without any restriction is rare in our current artistic culture and while exciting it is not always an easy or comfortable process.
Output for CONTAINER is by its nature therefore varied and there are currently several strands of work. Ideas are explored initially through discussion and practical sessions and when appropriate, documented as a resource for the future or developed into new work for installations. This is what makes CONTAINER so potentially exciting as it can provide a means for artists to develop ideas for projects, exhibitions, installations and performances and at the same time contribute to a larger body of work comprising audio-visual material, images, project ideas and practical research that can feed into formal training and symposium events.
CONTAINER strands include:
- Fractured Ground (completed 2016)
- Faceless Bodies (currently an independent project by Charlotte Armitage)
- The CONTAINER (ongoing)
- CLEANSE (completed 2020)
- NUDE (completed online project)
Extract from the project proposal by Charlotte Armitage:
A faceless naked body focuses the viewer on the body itself; it’s structure and form, along with the body language and the relationship with the environment in a way that I find intriguing and provocative. Anonymity seems to cause a different emotional response to the image and offers nakedness to the viewer in away that is de-personalised and less prescriptive, and for me offers a greater opportunity for further discussion. This exploration continues on from the concepts and ideas raised in a photographic project I collaborated with artist Robyn Leroy-Evans back in 2012, exploring faceless human form, setting and abstraction.
I see images where the naked model / performer is placed in a particular location, ie sitting on the side of a hospital bed, with a face masked perhaps by a prop or piece of costuming. This same image is then replicated but in a very different location, such as on the top level of a bus or in a supermarket with a view to stimulating a variety of responses.
I am keen to open up a debate about how we see the human form and offer the viewer an opportunity to explore views, concepts and thoughts around the body, nakedness and nudity, in a way that is without violence or sexual reference but is thought-provoking, artistic and hopefully amusing.
Choreography & Performance: Jonathon Luke Baker
Sound: Andrew Williams (LEVEL)
INHABITANTS: a 30-minute performance based upon common gestures found in everyday body language. These are translated into repetitive movements, carefully developing and transforming into intriguing physical motifs. The work sets out to portray how connections between our personal body language and our sense of self image manifest within our society. In doing so, INHABITANTS explores Jonathon’s personal relationships to his body, including his identities as a queer person, as a dancer and as a human being.
CLEANSE comprised a series of single screen films each taking a surreal view of the practice, ritual and equipment of institutional personal care. It was available in different multi screen configurations – using between 2 and 20 screens depending upon space and the mix of content chosen to install.
CLEANSE was a flexible installation resource – a collection of short powerful audio visual images that provide a range between fun, flippant, informative, questioning, shocking and playful material. Installations will comprise selected mixes from the collection.
A series of projects documenting performances, live events and photo shoots/filming in a variety of purpose built clear boxes. These may remain clear, be filled with liquids or any other material including haze/smoke to obscure the view. As a metaphor, the boxes have many meanings and potential applications in regards the notion of ‘CONTAINMENT’. Each container contains movement and performance possibilities dependant on the size and dimensions. The container documented here is a 3ft x 3ft perspex box commissioned by LEVEL in 2019. To date performers in this project have included, Imogen Trinder, Andrew Williams, Jo Shaw and Tom Simpson.
Fractured Ground began in 2016 and was the first of the CONTAINER projects. The research & development process placed emphasis upon our somatic (of the body) senses rather than our normal rational/intellectual approach to creating, collating, structuring and valuing information and art. The Fractured Ground Project comprised three elements:
- Fracture – a 3 screen audio-visual installation
- Fractured Ground – a series of live performances
- Participation & engagement events
NUDE Live Life Drawing & Performance
In May 2020 LEVEL Arts Centre launched a new online programme in response to the COVID 19 lockdown. NUDE formed a part of this providing a series of live events combining performance art and life drawing.
During the COVID 19 lockdown in the UK we challenged ourselves to provide interesting opportunities for our artists and performers to create live events that could engage new audiences and offer a creative resource in the remote, screen-based world that we suddenly found ourselves in. The NUDE project set out to ask ourselves how bringing a 3D experience into a 2D medium (contained on a screen) can offer new perspectives and interesting ways of engaging with the human form and body.