all images by Luís Branco
“Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or haunts space. It applies itself to space like a hand to an instrument, and when we wish to move about we do not move the body as we move an object. We transport it without instruments as if by magic, since it is ours and because through it we have direct access to space. For us the body is much more than an instrument or a means; it is our expression in the world, the visible form of our intentions. Even our most secret affective movements, those most deeply tied to the humoral infrastructure, help to shape our perception of things.” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty from “The Primacy of Perception”
I have been thinking about the body and why and how I have been using my body/the body in my work of the last few years in Portugal in performative works with photographer Luís Branco. I have been re-reading parts of Amelia Jones’ book “Body Art – Performing the Subject.” She quotes Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenological philosopher, often and also synthesizes his work as applicable to art and specifically body art. This is handy because Merleau-Ponty’s work is pretty dense stuff but nether-the less very relevant to my own thinking and art making.
The images above and below are from a sub-series of images I made with Luís Branco at the dry reservoir at Santa Susana in Portugal in October. I am showing just a few of the many images. There was no rehearsal or choreography involved in these images. We did not use props or extra fabric like we have in other photo-shoots. My movements are sometimes awkward and the cracked earth is hard to navigate. However I think that the body/my body in this abstract space (seemingly apocalyptic) of dry cracked earth portrays this connection of the body to space that Merleau-Ponty describes above.
The odd and undefined space of the dry reservoir combined with the body / subject of the older woman/me in a black dress also prescribes something intimate and fragile – a real and existential loss… of water, of youth…
Amelia Jones describes the general idea of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the chiasm in her book “Body Art – Performing the Subject” intertwining Merleau-Ponty’s words with her own on pg. 41:
“His “The Chiasm-The Intertwining,” published posthumously in 1964, is especially rich in relation to body art. In this text, Merleau-Ponty embeds vision in touch, touch in vision, and their chiasmic crossing is the flesh of the world/the body itself: differentiating modes of vision (color and visibles) is a tissue that is ‘not a thing but a possibility, a latency, and a flesh of things.’ The chiasmus is the ‘doubled and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible,’ and the flesh of the visible indicates the carnal being-at once subjective and objectified. There is a ‘reciprocal insertion and intertwining’ of the seeing body in the visible body: we are both subject and object simultaneously, and our ‘flesh’ merges with the flesh that is the world. There is no limit or boundary between the body and the world since the world is flesh.”
How cool is that – ‘the world is flesh’?
I might call this series of images The Chiasm or Body and Earth or The World is Flesh. What do you think? These images hold some power for me. I like the unity, the informality and fragility of the body / my body and the space / earth.
And I heard good news from friends Carolien and Ludger in Portugal that it is raining this spring, so I am hoping that this dry reservoir at Santa Susana is replenishing and that the Alentejo will come out of drought. Again all this work was accomplished with the support of the Obras Artist Residency.
4 thoughts on “Why the body? Why my body? posted in Boulder, CO March 3, 2018”
Thank you Jennifer! xo S
i like The World Is Flesh. makes sense with the cellular looking reservoir bed. great photos.
Thanks Jim! I like “The World is Flesh” too. Also, I like the idea that the cracked earth looks cellular. Also, makes me think I will have to read some more Merleau-Ponty (which I have been meaning to do for years). Best Sherry