The Body as Artistic Material at Edinburgh College of Art: Project Report
The surrealist movement of the late 1920s that we studied in class particularly interested me, especially the short film, Un Chien Andalou made by Salvador Dali in 1927. The concept of cinema looking into the subconscious as a way to better illuminate reality, with no linear narrative or plot but rather the focused use of bold images and shapes in storytelling, fascinated me, and led to my further research into the films of David Lynch and Gregg Araki. The colours and aesthetic of cult classics like Mulholland Drive (2001), which I watched on 35mm film, and Blue Velvet (1986), inspired my project where Lynch uses layering to recreate dreams and, particularly in Blue Velvet, “bright, cheery tones” (Ron Magid) in the supersaturated red tulips, yellow jacket and daffodils. I loved the way this sharp contrast between dark and light added to the visual atmosphere of film, and also found that the vivid colour palette of Araki’s films evoked effects edging on delirium. My project’s meaning is similar to the characterization of Surrealist and Dadaist works in also being a condemning reaction toward the Western emphasis on logic and reason, in highlighting some absurd elements of Western etiquette. The article, The History of Table Manners, helped me to focus this intent and conceptual aspect of my project in the early stages of research. The contemporary works of Terry Richardson and Janine Antoni linked more explicitly with my project theme of eating, where again Richardson uses block colours and clear shapes to make the gorging of food seem aesthetic to the extent of being displayed in fashion magazines. After reading about Antoni’s work Gnaw in Bodies That Matter, I watched a video whereby in a lecture she said:
‘I know you as a viewer have a body, and you can imagine what its like to chew on 600 pounds of chocolate. I’m interested whether I can put you in a position of empathy with my process ... and then if you want to analyse your own response, that’s up to you.’ (At Home in the Body 2012).
I wanted to make a viewer-created film because like Antoni, I am interested in my audience analysing their own response toward etiquette and eating and thus creating their own meaning.
The theme of etiquette in my project is interlinked with the overarching concept of civility, defined as ‘formal politeness and courtesy in behaviour’. I believe that the positive societal values associated with being ‘civilized’, and negative associations of repulsion and offense with being ‘uncivilized’, force one into an absurd public façade which distances oneself from the natural functions of their own body. This belief is self-reflective of my own reactions toward others, a realisation of which forced me into questioning the notion that we use our bodies to complete tasks to survive everyday yet still use knives and forks which can sometimes compromise the efficiency of consumption (all for the sake of civility). My project’s focus is to highlight how societal values have contrived actions of the body that are needed for survival.
The video is surrealist in embracing the unexpected and illogical juxtapositions of sound with sight and the element of surprise used in the variation in volume. I wanted the layering to be effective in adding more depth and texture to the video and exaggerating it as an over-sensory experience. This synesthetic element manifested through the editing process where I overlaid different clips on top of one another synced to contrasting sound recordings to confuse and disorientate. Muted, the visual act of chewing on screen could seem aesthetic with the bright colours, bold and geometric shapes, and the gritty effects in the clips highlighting the contrived and unnatural stylizing of the video, whilst the sped up actions also make it feel animalistic and raw. The repetition of the beginning at the end (but rewound) serves to allow the film to be played on a loop in the gallery and also gives the false-security of a narrative frame to the middle of the film. The filming process itself was quite performative as I styled and planned each shot; Jones further draws on this idea that eating in a social environment is in itself an everyday performance in emphasizing that ‘meals are a social ritual’.
My project, titled after the ironic Mrs Beeton quote, ‘Man Only Dines’ examines how we and the body interacts with food and draws attention to the absurdity that ‘eating is a physical need’ yet still ‘a stylized act’, questioning the boundary between civilized and uncivilized.
Blue Velvet 1986, dvd, Blu-Ray Disc, viewed 16 Oct. 2016.
Cameron, D. (2000). Parts and Whole: Three Works by Janine Antoni, in Janine Antoni. The University of Michigan: Ink Tree, 27-31.
Five Minute Film School Surrealism and David Lynch 2015, video, Film School Hooligans, viewed 27 Sept. 2016, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Q23Kr5I9c#action=share >.
Harris, B. (2011) Gregg Araki, “Kaboom”, Filmmaker Magazine. Available at: http://filmmakermagazine.com/19809-gregg-araki-kaboom/#.WFUpY6OcZok [Accessed 2 Nov. 2016]
Janine Antoni: At Home in the Body – Michigan 2012, video, UM Stamps School of Art and Design, 16 December, viewed 31 October 2016, <https://vimeo.com/55718661>.
Jones, J. (2011). The History of Table Manners. The Guardian, 1-2. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/09/history-table-manners-etiquette- beeton [Accessed 2 Oct. 2016]
Magid, R. (1986). “Blue Velvet – Small Town Horror Tale.” American Cinematographer, vol. 67 no. 11, 60 – 64.
Mulholland Drive 2001, motion picture, Filmhouse Cinema, Edinburgh.
Oxford Art Online, (2007-2016). Dada and Surrealism. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordartonline.com/public/page/themes/dadaandsurrealism [Accessed 28 Sept. 2016]
Pattison, M. (2013). In Dreams and Imagination: Surrealist Values in Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire. Senses of Cinema: An Online Film Journal Devoted to the Serious and Eclectic Discussion of Cinema [online] Vol. 66. Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2013/feature-articles/in- dreams-and-imagination-surrealist-values-in-mulholland-dr-and-inland-empire/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2016]
Un Chien Andalou 1927, video, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, viewed 27 Sept. 2016,< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=054OIVlmjUM >.