‘pass-the-parcel’ Group Exhibition, Riverlight Studios, London

I had another opportunity to take part in a group exhibition at StudioRCA Riverlight in April 2018. Due to the space qualities, it was even more site-specific. My installation was in a narrow corridor, in between big windows and a patterned glass wall from which we could see people in the private swimming pool of the new housing building. What stroked me at first was the exclusivity of water, as a privileged commodity and a way to set a strong barrier between two groups of people, fancy-flat owners versus the plebeian pedestrians, even if we all belong to a complex eco-system of interdependent bodies of water (Neimanis, 2017). The smell of chlorine, the heat coming up from the swimming pool, the blurred bodies swimming in the water… It was fascinating to see that in an ‘art gallery’ so I decided to play around that.

Firstly, I conducted two different data-gathering sessions, having in mind the installation-making process. I borrowed a macro lens and went around the Ladies Pond area, taking pictures of organic components, such as tree barks, water riddles or lichens. It was such a great research process, being alone on the Heath, surrounded by the trees, and probably looking a bit creepy to the walkers when I was bending to catch a tiny bit of wood I found ‘interesting for the eyes’. The rain started to fall after a while, just when I was deep down in the Heath, getting a bit over-excited by the feeling of being in a forest, not seeing any ‘urban’ or even ‘human’ presence.

Afterwards, I asked one of my flatmate to pose for me, who is also a close friend of mine. It was a very intense moment, and many of her reactions were revealing of a wider feeling towards our own female bodies. She refused to be fully naked, even though we know each other well and we have both seen the other naked many times before. She was laughing nervously all along. Then, I used my own skin as a canvas. For the first time in my life, I was finding a positive aesthetic in the psoriasis red dots. I ran a bath because I wanted to recreate those Watery waves on the Water surface that blurs the texture of the skin. My leg hair and psoriasis dots were retaining the Water shaped in tiny drops on my skin.

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After showing my flatmate the result of the photoshoot, she was kind of ‘proud’ of her body inputs. Indeed, she went through a breast-reconstruction surgery when she was younger: her breast was too big, it was painful. To be reimbursed by the French government national health system, she had to write a letter to the (male) doctor explaining why her breast was an obstacle in her daily life. I find it so violent to have to justify such a choice about your own body, which will be validated or not by (White males) professionals. Now, she has a few scars, around her nipples and underneath each of her boobs. It took a lot of time for her to overcome the feeling of shame she had because of those scars. Seeing her nipple in the exhibition made her feel proud and powerful, she said to me. She even showed the result to her friends back home.

I felt the same way seeing the psoriasis dots and eczema plaques used as ‘artistic’ materials. Same for stretch marks, cellulites, and other body parts visible on the skin surface seen as flaws and ‘ugly’, because they are outside the bodily norms dictated by society.

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After those two processes, I had two sets of visual data: photographic close-ups of human body parts and organic elements found in the Ladies Pound area. With Photoshop, I developed some design patterns digitally, that I then had screen-printed on translucent fabric. My first idea was to use double-exposure analogue photographs. The idea is to embody one of the main aspect of ecofeminism, which is blurring the lines between the normative and therefore exclusive dualisms implied by Western Enlightenment philosophy, such as Nature versus Technology, Mind versus Body, etc. For the patterns, I merged the human body and the organic close-ups, ending the Human versus Nature dichotomy. What stroke me the most during the process is this sense of reciprocal mimicry between Nature and Human bodies (Caillois, 1984). During the data gathering period, I could really see some mirroring patterns between those two sets of materials. Even now, months after, I still enjoy finding this mimicry. Stretchmarks look like a river. Rocks shape like human voluptuous curves. Wrinkles are like the lines seen on tree barks. Human hair is so similar to the white thin roots of weeds that grow in your garden. I don’t know if I have been reading too many things on ecofeminism, but it amazes me, this physical closeness between us and our natural surroundings, like our skins has evolved in a camouflage-like pattern.

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The materiality of the fabric was central in the installation process. I was, and I still am, a total stranger to fabric making, but as any other human-being, I am sensitive
to touch and what kind of emotions it triggers31. My mother’s silk scarfs. My dad’s linen shirts. My ex-lovers’ cotton underwear. The movement of the fabric needed to embody fluidity, movements, waves of water, facilitating the journey throughout the installation rather than being an obstacle to the sensorial experience. I went for the fabric called ‘Chiffon’, which had more of a ‘grainy’ texture compared to the others, closer to an organic type of fabric, and was very sensitive to the wind and people’s movements. It was translucent enough to let the lights flow through the installation but it still gives a sense of isolation and peacefulness from the rest of the gallery space, just like the Ladies Pond can give a sensation of quietude within TfL zone 1.

In the installation, the fabric is displayed as curtains, hanging from the ceiling, which emphasize the safety and protection formed by Nature around the LadiesPond area. The audience is invited to walk through the curtains and get lost in the maze of fluidity, to eventually grasp some inner dynamics of the Ladies Pond.

Amongst others, for this installation, I got inspired by Paul Maheke, a French artist who has been working on Hydrofeminism for the past three years now, bringing the spotlight on the inner poesy of this conceptual framework and its potential for visual arts. At the South London Gallery, for I Lost Track of the Swarm, alongside documentations of the live performances, there were some white curtains with poetic sentences sewed on them, moved by the wind, giving a spectral embodiment and presence in the gallery space.

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The stream that flows into the Ladies Pond comes from a public reservoir, and gets hidden by the trees after passing through the Ladies Pond gates. The sound in the installation comes from an ethnographic fieldwork research, where I recorded the constant flow of water coming from the reservoir, once again not being allowed to record or document in any other way the organic dynamics of the Ladies Pond. I went to see Eloise Hawser’s exhibition By the deep, by the mark, where she introduces the outputs of her residency at Somerset House, focusing on the story of the Thames and notably the Victorian sewage system. Alongside sculptures, videos and archival materials, a watery sound accompanies the viewer throughout the whole exhibition. I was fascinated by the capacity of a simple sound to immerse me in her research. That is what I wanted to recreate. In the ‘Bodies of Water’ installation, the further you walk in the installation, the closer you get to the heat and the sound. The smell of the soil is quite aggressive, and the walker hears the wind blowing harder and harder, making the experience less comfortable than at the beginning. It embodies this twofold characteristic of the Pond: peaceful for some, disturbing for the others, especially those who don’t ‘fit in’. Smell has just recently been explored, like at the Tate Sensorium event in 2015, but it is still quite new.

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Photographs: Alexandra Hincapie

Design: Marie Kopaleichvili