I decided to do a Performance Art piece for my final project. My main concept was to use my body as the canvas and medium in this piece. I wanted explore experienced time and how its perceived duration can alter according to our feelings — specifically Pleasure and Pain. I also wanted to create a piece that would enable both the Artist (Me) and the Audience to experience these feelings within the linear duration of the work (Measured Time).
The idea for this piece was inspired by Marina Abramovic’s ‘Rhythm 0’, as mentioned in my previous OSS post. I wanted to convey that same idea of simply being a medium for the audience to interact with — it was important that I did not enforce any ideas upon them but instead enable them to formulate their own concepts through the interaction alone. Hence, isolating myself from my body, and conditioning my state of mind for the duration of the work, was key.
Description & SKetchES
Initial Idea : I decided to explore Pain and Pleasure through two specific items — Candlewax and Honey. My initial idea was for both Candlewax and Honey to drip simultaneously on either side of my arms while the audience watches it unfold. Measured time here, will be defined by the drops of wax every time they hit my arm and the slower dribbles of viscous honey on the other arm.
Added Concept : However I wanted the interaction to be physical and not simply visual. Hence I decided to lay out tools around my arms — the same way Abramovic surrounded herself with 72 tools. Due to the specific focus on exploring the liminal relationship between Time and Space, I decided to use just two tools — A Scraper and Marshmallows. The Scraper will be placed on the arm with the Wax, to provide the audience with a tool to help me scrape the piling wax off (which will continue to pile up no matter how much they scrape). The Marshmallows will be placed on the arm with Honey, as a complement for the Honey.
Hence this contrast of seeing me get hurt, coupled with the futile inclusion of the scraper vs the choice to experience blissful indulgence by eating marshmallows dipped in honey instead, is created.
Final Concept: I pondered about my concept further, and decided to push it a little further. Instead of merely ‘disabling’ the Audience from relieving me of my pain, I wanted to provide them with a tool that could both scrape the wax yet hurt me further. So that every time the think of helping, they may hold back, knowing that the tool could induce more pain instead. Hence I chose to use a penknife instead. I would also be doing it topless, to emphasise vulnerability.
Squeezable Honey with Stand — pressure from clasp just enough to cause Honey to flow.
Wooden Bookstand — Rotated so that Candles will be able to drip at an angle that ensures the dripping does not stop prematurely.
After Candle has been glue gunned to fasten it to the stand
This is the documentation of my final performance piece
1. Initially the Audience seemed reluctant to participate or looked like they were waiting for someone to initiate interaction.
2. Audience started interacting with both sides of the work as they saw the wax accumulating.
3. I intended for the candles to be lit for only 2m30s. Hence I instructed Rayven beforehand, to blow out the candles at that mark. The remaining 3 minutes, I sat there still in ‘character’ and gave the audience enough breath to process the performance while allowing them to still interact with my body in any way they wanted to.
1. The audience barely mixed around the props from either side, though I never laid down any rules preventing them from doing so. Only one or two decided to roast the marshmallows. My Prof poured Honey over the Wax to relief the supposed pain I was feeling, which the class did not think of doing.
2. Not everyone participated and some just seemed like they could not wait for the performance to end.
3. Some of those who did interact, seemed very reluctant to. They looked like they were being forced to when they had the liberty to not participate if they did not want to.
There is a repeated used of the subject matter, which creates a constant rhythm to the over all piece. The use of short B-Roll like clips one after the other, also creates a harmonious rhythm of constancy. The sounds used initially are isolated, however as the climax builds up, crescendo is created as previously used sounds are layered together to form an ominous new ‘sound’. This speeds up the pace and rhythm of the film. The use of an overarching background track also anchors the film’s rhythm
The use of emphasis on subtle movements versus dynamic movements. Subtle movements such as the tremor of the hands, nodding of head and smoking cigarette are contrasted with the dynamic movements of brushing intensely through the hair and the sharp turning of the neck. There are some scenes with very little movements — where the movement is either by the lens or totally absent and others where movement is solely within the scene — water drizzling in tub or fan turning. Overall the use of various movements, creates a visually dynamic piece. Movements are also very natural and not forced.
There is no clear causality due to the nature of the film. Causality can only be inferred after watching the whole film, due to the interspersing of seemingly random clips. However there is a clear end when the screen blacks out, giving audience time to process the film.
It is 1m29s long. I could have cut it down to immediately after the final scene and omitted the continuation of the song. This might have evoked a more impactful effect. However my concept was to evoke the looming lingering effect of the ‘head voice’ even after the build-up and chaos of the climax.
I wanted to explore a fictional ‘place’ or rather a state of mind that only certain people are able to experience. Rather than focusing on a completely fictional space, I decided to explore a reality that only exists to some people. Hence I narrowed my ideas down to ‘Schizophrenic State of Mind’.
“Schizophrenia is not a disorder of ‘split personality’ but rather a disorder of fragmented mental processes. It is a major psychotic illness. Many suffering from schizophrenia would, usually, have suffered the symptoms of psychosis for at least six months before seeking help. Sufferers will have experienced a deterioration in interpersonal relationships and in daily functioning at school or at work. Although it can affect anyone at any age, its onset is usually in adolescence or young adulthood.” — IMH, SG.
Constant periods of Psychosis are what Schizophrenics experience, alienating themselves from people around them. I wanted to make a film that would allow the audience to see and feel the fragmented thoughts that go on in the minds of affected people.
In ClASS SOUND EXERCISE
Here are the sounds I recorded (All were taken within ADM)
As we were tasked to produce a 1 minute short film, I decided to focus on one specific episode of Psychosis. Hence the title for my film, ‘Psychosis’.
To use asynchronous sounds with clips to accentuate the idea of undergoing Psychosis.
My initial idea was to capture close up videos of random actions and details and string them together into one film. Almost like the idea of B-Roll footages. However after consulting with my Prof, I decided to anchor the whole film through an overarching subject matter. This would also help provide a narrative for the audience and ease their grasping of the abstract idea of Psychosis. Hence I decided to include shots of my friend performing random actions, together with the initial B-roll like shots.
I chose one of my closest friends to be the subject matter for the film. As someone who has experienced mental illness, I thought her to be the appropriate subject matter to be featured. I did not want to use a person that had completely no concept of the idea of mental instability. This was to ensure my directions to her would have at least some form of conviction and naturality instead of coming off as mere ‘acting’.
Visually, she is someone who gives off a very grunge-like aesthetic and as much as this may be a stereotypical portraiture of a mentally unstable person, I decided to utilise that — considering my audience were mainly made up of the ‘normal majority’. The point of the film is to convey an idea and I decided that employing a ‘harmless’ visual stereotype would help reinforce my concept.
Reference Images of Her
I decided to go for an intentionally messy hair and smudged make up look for my final film.
Breakdown of Themes and Techniques in Film
1. Fragmented Clips — Fragmented Thoughts
The use of fragmented B-roll clips, strung together jarringly one after the other, portray the concept of fragmented ideas that form the reality of a person with Schizophrenia.
2. Looping/Repeated Shots — Trapped in a Psychotic Loop
I took a very short clip of the subject matter’s head turning around, and being cut off just before she fully turns to face the lens. This shot is repeated twice, once at the 11s mark, and again when the film ends, at the 1m10s mark.
I wanted to evoke an insidious feeling by repeating this supposedly random shot at the end again. When viewed at the 11s mark, it may not have created much significance. But by ending the film with this same looping movement of her head turning, I wanted the audience to question its repetition and significance and also feel discomfort. It draws attention since it is the only repeated clip. This idea of looping in a circle is also a key aspect of psychosis where people may draw links between completely isolated concepts and end up forming a skewed reality.
3. Close-Ups — Acute Sensitivity
Most of my shots are close-ups — different parts of the body or items. I wanted to keep the subject matter consistent without having to show her face all the time. The close-ups also bring attention to tiny details such as the tremor of hands or scratching of bruises. I wanted to highlight the acute sensitivity a person undergoing psychosis might experience by including tiny details that require the audience to take a closer look. Here are some examples from the film:
Hint of a back tattoo and a yellow bruise mark
An empty slab of pills with just one pill left
Black bruise beneath all the scratching
Nail marks and slightly reddish mark on right breast
Pale specks of yellow and red stained tissue in toilet bowl
4. Perspectives/Gaze — Skewed Perspectives
I used different angles and perspectives, and different gazes towards the lens to convey the idea of having a non constant and perpetually skewed train of thought. Here are some examples of these shots in the film:
Distant glare in the mirror
Intense and direct stare at the mirror
Disassociated yet calm gaze, away from the lens despite front facing
Top-down shot in intimate place of toilet, idea of a pervasive prying
Bottom-up shot with subject matter staring down at lens, giving her power
5. Asynchronous sounds/Layering of Sounds — Voices in head
I mainly employed asynchronous sounds and increasingly layered more sounds together towards the end of the film, to build a rising climax and a crescendo. For example in the bathtub shot, I used the hard sound of crushing a can. I wanted this juxtaposition to be conveyed. The layering of sounds also explores the concept of the objective and subjective voice. It creates a confusion and blurring of the lines between these concepts — audience may not be able to tell if the sounds are objective or subjective. I also used a backing track beneath all the recorded sounds, to provide a constant head voice to the subject matter. I used the song ‘Born to Die’ by Lana Del Rey but asked a friend to sing a cover for me instead — I wanted it to be raw and original. Here are some examples of the clips which employ these contrasting yet similarity between sound and clip:
Use of lighter clicking sound vs image of a lamp
Scratching sound of chalkboard vs scratching of soft skin
Blowing of hairdryer vs Spraying of hairspray
I used clues between the clips to help connect them together in a more visually cohesive manner. Though my idea was to convey fragmentation, I did not want the final product to look ‘messy’. Below are some clues or details I utilised to aid in transitioning smoothly between adjacent clips :
Breeze of turning fan followed by blowing of mist from hairspray
Street lamp in background, followed by close-up of streetlamp
Random wall in background followed by same pattern in clear toilet shot
Reflection of red traffic light on road, followed by flash of red light from phone, illuminating the skin
I also kept the dark red lipstick, cigarettes and the blonde streak in my friend’s hair as anchors for most of the scenes.
The film ends with my lens following the trail of a teardrop, through this obscure looking hole. This was actually a hole burned through a sheet of paper, placed right in front of the lens. When looked closely, you can see the dark burnt edges around this ‘hole’. I wanted it to be a subtle yet powerful ending. By this scene, the crescendo comes to an end and we are only left with the backing track — I wanted to attempt giving the audience this sudden ‘breath’ after the climax. The looping head turning appears (explained earlier), and the screen blacks out with the song still playing. The film ends with the lyrics ‘we were born to die’. I wanted it to evoke a lingering ominous feeling.
I was hugely inspired to incorporate the use of layering sounds by the band CocoRosie. They employ random daily objects including children’s toys, to create the instrumental for their songs.
I could have pushed the idea of asynchrosity by juxtaposing more contrasting sounds and clips. I should have also considered ending the film in complete silence to achieve an impactful ‘Breath”.
For this project, we had to focus on portraying the liminal relationship between time and space. Personally I feel Time and Space are intangible concepts that vary according to an individual’s perception. They also alter and morph depending on one’s experience with an event and the subsequent emotion they feel from it. For example, time may feel dreadfully slow, and space acutely tight, when someone feels anxious. Hence for this project, I decided to focus on exploring perceived and experiential time. However, I also wanted to encapsulate the man-made idea of measured and calculated time, and how this in itself can influence one’s perception.
Time, even in its ‘scientific’ definition, according to Quantum Theory, is just a dimension of space. This highlights the relationship between the concepts.
I intended to do a performance piece for my final project, instead of an installation or video as I wanted my body to be the main medium. In line with this idea, I drew inspiration from a performance artist I have always looked up to — Marina Abramovic. She also focuses on exploring the internal dimensions of time and space, while ensuring her works have a strict linear time frame — to ensure a focused delivery to the audience.
Marina Abramovic is hailed as the Grandmother of Performance Art, and she is known for her long durational works which often emphasise on utilising and allowing her body to be the medium through which she portrays her ideas.
Her works also focus on exploring the relationship between artist and audience and testing the limits of the body and the mind. These are concepts I want to be able to execute in my final presentation too.
“What you’re doing is not important. What is really important is the state of mind from which you do it. Performance”
Rhythm 0 — 1974
Abaramovic performed one of her most renowned and controversial works, Rhythm 0, in 1974. She laid down on a table, with 72 items and gave the audience the liberty to interact with her body in any way they wanted to. Hence, for a period of six hours, visitors were invited to use any of the objects on the table while she subjected herself to their treatment. There were items that could induce pleasure and items that were capable of causing severe harm.
Source : guggenheim.org
The Art of Drinking Water Consciously
“Feel the coldness, wetness. Feel how the water goes into the mouth, goes into the body, nourishing cells and drink this glass in 30 minutes, and nothing else. “
This video encapsulates the idea of being acutely aware of the sensations and reactions of the body to an external medium. Through a simple and mundane act of drinking a glass of water, Abramovic explores each movement and feeling in a rhythmic and meditative manner. Time is slowed down in this video as opposed to the rapid and nonchalant manner in which we usually gulp down a glass of liquid.
The Abramovic Method
“The Abramovic Method developed over decades of research on performance and immaterial art. Created by Marina Abramovic, the Method is an exploration of being present in both time and space. It incorporates exercises that focus on breath, motion, stillness, and concentration.” – MAI
This method of feeling the physicality of measured time, while conveying the ideas of intangible versions of time, will form the basis for my performance piece. Understanding the importance of the role of the artist and the audience is key to delivering an effective performance.
This an example of The Abramovic Method, practiced by Pop Icon, Lady Gaga.
Personal GOal for final work
On my part, till the days up to my performance, I conditioned myself to be as acutely aware of the sensations in my body as much as possible. I also constantly looped songs that had a meditative rhythm and beat to them in an attempt to set a prepared state of mind. I mostly listened to idiosyncratic songs by Lisa Gerrard and her band (Dead Can Dance) as they imbue a dissociative feeling while employing a trance like rhythm. It was important for me to detach myself from my ‘body’ and treat it like a mere medium for the audience, while still being aware of each ‘sensation’. I had to feel without letting myself process or interpret them. I also wanted it to be ritualistic.
For this project, the main theme was the idea of Subversion. To subvert is to change the original understood meaning of a particular idea or object. However in its strictest definition, it describes the complete destabilising or challenging of an established concept. To focus on creating more impactful images, I chose to adopt the latter definition.
The object I was tasked to subvert — Broccoli
My main concept required me to first deconstruct broccoli into the common attributes associated with it — both physically and metaphorically.
Physical Attributes: Green, Thick Stalk, Florets, Leafs, Rough, Soft and Spongey, Crunchy, Dry, Bland
For the first component, I had to capture the broccoli as it was, without imbuing or associating it with any implied meaning. However, I did not want to simply photograph the Broccoli as we would usually see it — when in grocery carts or our kitchen. I wanted to capture certain unique attributes of the vegetables that we may often overlook. I achieved this by playing with perspectives and employing close up shots— how often would one closely inspect a Broccoli before chopping it up? I wanted the images in this component to be strong enough to provoke the audience (through mere physical representation alone) into associating them with their own meaning. The resulting images emanate a sense of an alien, sci-fi like like landscape.
This image comprises of two broccolis — a bare one in the foreground, and a cling wrapped one that is in the blur of the background. In this image, I wanted to capture the discoloured areas of the vegetable instead of the predominantly noticed lush green. Hence I focused my lens on a yellow line of discoloured florets that cut across the surrounding patch of green. A lone leaf also seems to be sprouting out from this ‘line’. These leaves are often obsolete and overlooked as being part of the broccoli — when one thinks of broccoli they would rarely describe it as having leaves. I intentionally framed the ‘anomalous’ leaf in my shot to feature the forgotten sides of this familiar vegetable. In the background I ensured that the stalk was also visible as I wanted to capture its general form. To provide a different perspective, I placed a cling wrapped broccoli which represents stored vegetables, in the background too. The reflective property of the cling wrap accentuates the alien-like mood and landscape in this image.
This is an image of the cross-section of two halves of a broccoli placed side by side. For this image, my intention was to capture the interiorof the Broccoli, apart from just exploring its external form itself. The cross section of the stalks have a desaturated pastel green tonethat contrasts from the bright green of the exterior. I intentionally placed the cross sections such that the little floret sprout from the first half, and the second half form a cavity that provocatively alludes to the form of the female genitalia.
This is a close up shot of the broccoli’s florets stuck against the blade of a kitchen knife. I sliced a knife through the broccoli just like all of us do when we chop vegetables for cooking. However, I only sliced down halfway and decided to capture the remnants that are left behind on the knife after one is done with their chopping. The tiny florets are also featured as individual pieces instead of one big cluster. The fragility of the florets is emphasised through its juxtaposition against the cold, hard, and scratched steel of the blade.
COmponent 2 — ConnoTATION
For this component, I wanted to subvert he metaphorical meaning of the broccoli. Firstly, broccoli is widely associated with balanced meals and good health. It is also considered an unpleasant ingredient by many, especially children who tend to avoid eating them. Hence in the series of images for this component, I wanted to portray it as being insidious and destructiverather than beneficial — as an alluring drug that is detrimental to one’s health. I did this through techniques of replacing, removing or altering certain parts of the broccoli.
In this image, the top portion of the broccoli has been chopped off and replaced with clumps of steel wool. My intention was to subvert the original ‘feathery’ texture and make it coarse and bristly instead. Only part of the stalk is visible and it looks as if its disguising itself as something shiny and visually alluring. This gives this image an ominous mood. I also wanted the broccoli to be ‘eye-catching’ and have a tinker-like look to evoke the feeling of people craving it as a vice, the same way magpies are ‘addicted’ to acquiring shiny items.
In this image I wanted to make the broccoli look like marijuana. I removed the florets from the main vegetable and scattered some on a rolling paper to simulate a joint. Beside it, I placed a ‘baggie’ filled with chunks of broccoli to accentuate the marijuana imagery. This image was taken on a kitchen counter top, scattered with bits of broccoli which I included in the frame — drug houses tend to be messy and unkept. Here, broccoli is portrayed as highly sought after and widely consumed marijuana.
In this image, broccoli is portrayed as the highly addictive and potentpainkiller, heroin. I ground chunks of broccoli, mixed them with water and filled up an insulin syringe to achieve this shot. The needle is angled such that it is pressed against a vein, suggesting intravenous injection — the most potent method of administering any kind of substance. I wanted the frame for this image to be as tight as possible and to convey tension — by using my curled finger, syringe and the portion of my forearm to form a visually rigid frame.
COMPONENT 3 — A2 Poster
For this component, I decided to use the third image from component two and combine it with a text. This was in line with my intention to portray broccoli as an addictive and unhealthy drug — challenging its original idea of being a healthy and beneficial food source. I did research to retrieve any information about vegetables being possibly detrimental to one’s health. While doing so, I learned about a relatively unknown eating disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa. It is a condition that includes symptoms of obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet.
‘To be clear, orthorexia is not an interest in healthy eating – it’s when enthusiasm becomes a pathological obsession, which leads to social isolation, psychological disturbance and even physical harm. In other words, as Bratman said in a co-authored book in 2000, it’s “a disease disguised as a virtue.”‘
It is a widely argued concept and is not officially recognised by some experts. As such, I decided to use my image to make a poster that would raise awareness and bring concern to this often sidelined disorder.
There are two text components in this poster — the text label and the line of text below it. I wanted to utilise broccoli, which is an established metaphor for healthy eating as the basis for highlighting Orthorexia. Hence I created a text label with the composite word : Broccolamphetamine – Broccoli and Methamphetamine. Amphetamines are substances that are infamously abused to achieve rapid weight loss. Hence I welded it with the word broccoli, to make it sound like an unhealthy drug. Amphetamines are also highly addictive and propagates unhealthy repetitive behaviour which is also a key sign of disorders. I included ‘side effects’ in subtexts to make the label look like a legitimate clinical and medicinal label. The side effects stated are synonymous with both Orthorexia and Methamphetamine Abuse. For my main text, I decided to keep it simple by using the definition of Orthorexia with the word ‘Diagnosis’. Since this was an awareness poster, I decided that the definition of the disorder would be sufficient enough to arrest viewer’s attention. The use of the word ‘Diagnosis’ emphasises the point that it is a serious medical condition — as serious as injecting substances into your body.
After feedback from my peers and professor, I realised that I should have made the broccoli in the final poster more visible. I could have added chunks of broccolis in the background to help viewers make the link between the vegetable and the green substance in the syringe. I could have also added more text for those who do not have knowledge on drugs. This would ensure a wider and more successful outreach.
I wanted to capture two forms of mediums that display measured time, in one frame and one take. The rhythmic dripping of the rain drop contrasts with the slow burning of the cigarette and the spontaneous swirly smoke from it. A bird also flies across the frame in the second half of the video.