Liz Aggiss is a live artist and dancer who playfully and fearlessly explores the representation of women through multimedia, music hall style humour, film and music. 'Cut with the Kitchen Knife' (2014) interested me the most as it uses black drape-like material to explore the different representations of the female body in dance. They begin in capes, covering up their bodies and then take these capes off and aggressively stretch them and pull them apart from each other as if they were trying to rip them, or change their purpose. They were then worn as skirts, as you'd expect in ballet. This gave me the idea of changing the purpose of the bed sheet over me with the structure of my movement. Also, in the latter half of the piece, she forms a body of people under their capes to form a large sculptural clump, discarding to human form on stage. I will use this idea within my piece also.
Her use of synchronised movement to opera as well is completely inspiring. However, I have chosen not to use music within my piece as I would like breath to be the most important sound.
'I Like America and America Likes Me' (1974) is Beuys' most famous Performance Art piece, involving him staying in a room with a Coyote for 3 days. He used a few props in order to disguise himself. The felt blanket interested me as he wanted to change the human form into the more sculptural shepherd form. He wanted to reference the significance and deity of the coyote, as celebrated traditionally by the Native Americans. When Europeans settled in America, the coyote lost this status and so was no longer a symbol in America.
So here, the felt blankets act as a tool for connection, even though it hides his identity, it allows the co-existence of two beings that would not normally be able to live alongside each other. This has made me think about how I can use the sheet in relation to the space around me, and the audience: how it hides my body shape, and how this would be interpreted by the audience.
Joan Jonas is a key multi-media performance artist who has influenced me greatly in her studies of the female identity through the exploration of video as a medium combined with dance and theatre. She is also influenced by Noh and Kabuki theatre which draws a lot of parallels with German Expressionism.
"Often performing in masks, veils, or costumes, Jonas uses disguise and masquerade to study the personal and cultural semiotics of female gesture and symbols."
She has been a useful source to look at in terms of structuring my piece and not being afraid to go with my gut instinct and how variables don't necessarily have to logically link to have a meaning when they are all put together. Also her physicality and embodiment of her ideas interested me.
The question of Islamic headdresses and it's significance in the ISIS regime.
So after delving into a lot of research on Soviet Union women and the way they were treated under a Stalinist society, I questioned how this would then be viewed as a relevant piece of art that had connotations about the place of women in today's society. After doing research into current affairs, I soon came across articles about the role of women in the ISIS regime which led me to become interested in the different connotations that can be drawn from the Abaya.
A sign of dignity and respect
I looked up the significance of the abaya for women (unrelated to ISIS) and I found some quotes from women who wear them:
- 'One is never overdressed or underdressed in an elegant black abaya'.
- 'When I wear an Abaya, I feel connected to my religion, my culture and my ethnicity'.
- 'It creates a greater sense of equality amongst women because no matter how different the design of an abaya is, the basis is still the same'.
I found it very interesting how the meaning of the abaya generally, becomes so different when it is used in Propaganda for ISIS and also the way it is talked about in the media in Western Culture: The abaya becomes a tool to advertise ISIS as the 'Purest form of Islam' and women are glorified in photographs holding guns, showing that joining ISIS gives them more freedom and choice.
A barrier from communication and the truth
However, the abaya also hides victims of war. The Yezidi women within the ISIS regime are held as sex slaves, they are forbidded from education, if abayas and black gloves are not worn, they are brutally beaten. In this way, the abaya covers and prohibits the female body from expressing and revealing the trauma and oppression that women frequently suffer from. In this sense, as well, the act of making women undistinguishable from one another and making them wear these abayas, despite the fact that it isn't revealing and provocative like the way women have been displayed as a sexual object in Western culture, still displays them as a sexual object to men. Under ISIS the abaya becomes a symbol for the the Jihadi man's possession of the Yezidi woman as his sex object and her lack of freedom. I found some footage to back up this of a former Yezidi woman throwing off her abaya after she escaped from Syria.
I also read in articles how the veils and materials worn by Catholic and Christian nuns was used as a disguise for many maltreatments such as food shortages and forced changes to physical appearance that went on among sisters in Nunneries. For example, I read a daughter's account of her mother's treatment:
"Even though my mother’s brown curls could easily have been covered by the enormous habit she wore she was forced to have it cut off by the presiding sisters. The goal of the closely-shorn head, explained my mother’s younger sister, who also became a nun in the 1950s, was “to make everyone forget that we were women.”"
The veil again becomes a tool to signify that women are possessed by man or a being - in the nun's situation, they belong to God.
Reading these articles has lead my piece in the direction of portraying ritualistic religious imagery within my expressive dance underneath the sheet and letting that be controlling the movement of the sheet visible to the audience. I don't want to make this a direct reference about these articles - ie. I don't want the audience to come away from the piece knowing that I had done this research. I would like it to be portrayed as an open metaphor that can then transcend into the audience's own interpretations.
I thought it would be interesting to upload some photo stills that showed the progression and variety of movements that could be executed under the sheet, showing the human body as an object and a sculpture. I found these images quite haunting but quite interesting as well and wonder how these could be seen in a dark space, being more isolated from the space to focus on the contours and shapes created within the sheet itself.
This gives me ideas about how to use levels and which dynamics to use when changing between checkpoints. For example, I found it most effective moving downwards quickly as it collects air under the sheet which moves slower than my body creating an interesting effect, likewise, when I move upwards, it is more effective to be slower, to emphasise the contrast between being scrunched up and small and being tall and still.
I want to play with the portrayal of the grotesque and exposure as a portrayal of stress, mechanical repetition and exhaustion as a contrast to the expressive dance that I will be doing underneath the sheet. These are some stills from one of my improvisational sessions, working off my natural response to articles that I have read describing the experience and strain of women at this time.