Body Information Workshops
25–30 January 2016
You do not need to bring anything but I would suggest wearing loose or stretchy clothing if you plan to do ‘Fitting into yourself’.
See you then,
Imagine twisting your fingertips into your ear canal, exploring the small inner space and finding a spot where your fingers sit comfortably against the warm waxy walls. Now, imagine pulling said fingertip from ears, dragging them lightly across your face and re-inserting them into your nostrils, again exploring the small corridors until they fit snugly amongst hairy innards of your nose. This particular experience was part of an exercise appropriately titled Fitting Into Yourself and was one of four activities that participants of the Body Information Workshops could choose to partake in. The 50-minute workshops were completed as one-on-one sessions or in small groups. These meetings were performed and recorded in the privacy of Boxcopy’s empty space. Before signing up for the workshop I hadn’t given much thought to the range of actions that could be performed by my body (such as brushing my big toe against my eyebrow) but these physical activities seem common-place within Riethmuller’s art practice.
Riethmuller, who is known for her instructional videos, audio recordings, performance and somatic workshops, commenced the Body Information Workshops in 2015 at the Walls Art Space on the Gold Coast, as part of FM[X]GC: What would a feminist methodology sound like? presented by Liquid Architecture. I was lucky enough to participate in one of these workshops, a one-on-one encounter in which participants chose from a small list of tasks to perform. The workshops consisted of a few tasks, some physical, some observational and others reflective. The Boxcopy adaptation was similar to the first workshops, the tasks remained mostly the same and the space appeared minimal in appearance compared to the installation at The Walls.
Sliding open the door at Boxcopy, participants were initially greeted by a blackout curtain that, when pulled back, revealed a studio setup containing seagrass matting, a camera and tripod. Filming areas had been marked out with masking tape and Leena gave a brief talk on the exercises we would be doing and how they could be performed. Release forms were handed over to participants to sign that stated footage from the workshops would be presented at a one-night closing event and would possibly be kept for future use. The exercises we performed in the workshop alluded to ideas of somatic experience and disruptions between the mind and body. The workshop activities brought to mind Bruce Nauman’s, Walking In An Exaggerated Manner around The Perimeter Of A Square (1967–68), an archival video in which the artist is seen walking repetitively in an exaggerated manner. Nauman was especially interested in the notion of body as art object or material and encouraged spectator participation in performances that explored the possibilities of physical action through audio-tactile separation.
Task 1. ‘Fitting into yourself: I will lead you through a series of exercises instructing how to fit parts of your body into other parts of your body. This action will be video recorded.’
For this task participants were instructed how to fit parts of their body into other parts of their body. Almost no limb was left un-stretched. Fundamentally, Fitting into yourself was an exercise in body consciousness and mindfulness. The tasks performed were basic in form but sometimes surprisingly difficult. I became mindful of the body/mind complex as I explored the internal and external boundaries of my body. At one stage we were feeling for possible lumps and grooves on our skulls, and next we were suddenly made very aware of how thin and sensitive the skin behind our knees is in comparison to the hardy skin on the heels of our feet.
Task 2. ‘Brush each other’s teeth at the same time: We will brush each other’s teeth at the same time. This action will be video recorded.’
This task reminded me of my recent explorations into mindfulness. You are fully present when performing a foreign task that requires concentration. You need to be focused when approaching other people’s bodies while attempting to multi-task. A cup of water, toothbrush and toothpaste were handed to participants and it would have been close to three minutes that we managed to work together as a group of three to brush each other’s teeth. It was difficult to concentrate on brushing another person’s teeth while someone else was trying to brush yours. The group would get caught laughing and a mixture of toothpaste and saliva would make its way from inside the mouth to the chin and cheeks, and occasionally the floor. All the while the camera was filming the event.
Riethmuller’s final documentation compositions are slick and minimal, with little narrative perceived beyond task accomplishment or repetition. The documentation evidences an emphasis on action and the use of the body as an object to manipulate and explore. Thinking about the workshops now, the word ‘limit’ comes to mind. Limits of the physical body, of course, but also limits of the mind, limits of social interaction and the limits of how much of my own vulnerability I want to share. Despite my interest in participating and learning more about my own body, my awareness of being recorded was in the back of my mind and, at times, affecting the authenticity of my participation. Nonetheless, I left the workshops feeling relaxed. My muscles stretched and my teeth very clean.
Lucy Forsberg is a practicing artist/curator and co-director of Cut Thumb, an ARI based in Brisbane.