It’s amazing when you stop and think about the body; when you register the fact all of your movements are controlled by tiny little messages sent along your nerves and synapses, allowing you to move instinctively without thinking. Transmitting instructions that allow your body to function. These days we are so preoccupied with image, diet, building artificial muscle, losing weight, gaining weight that we forget to think about our core components; the things that actually matter. How our muscles stretch as we bend our arms, how the skin moves with your joints, how our bones click and slot into place as we sit down, how we blink to keep the dust out, how we breathe as our pulse rate changes. All of these small little details are so crucial to everyday life, yet how often do we stop and think about them? How often do we take it all for granted? How often do we truly contemplate the wonders that are our bodies?
I have very bad knees, so I am constantly aware of the clicks and the shoots of pain. Yet in a weird way I am grateful to this pain. It forces me to slow down to reduce impact on the kneecap, or stop shin splints. Often I can feel my knee caps clicking and sliding over each other like a machine. I am so aware of these faults in my body that I can’t help become aware of everything else. This is why I love the gym so much, as I enter that space it allows me to open up a direct dialogue with my body. In the gym my actions are entirely dictated by the balance of mind and body; how far can I push certain muscles? How long can I do certain weights? How long should I spend stretching? It is almost as if I go deeper into myself in these moments as the mind dissolves and becomes one with the body.
Balance and endurance are core components of my workouts. There’s the will to stop verses the will to continue. As well as being good for fitness and strength, I believe the gym is also very good for the mind. Going on a regular basis takes commitment; continuing on a machine for a certain amount of time takes willpower. It is all a discipline in which the mind and body are intrinsically wrapped up in each other. I often find it difficult to get this across to people, as everyone has their own reasons for gyming, or some people I know don’t gym at all. Investigating my feelings further in my artwork is helping me to better articulate myself. I feel these images and their poses are highly effective in highlighting a lot of how I feel about exercise and its necessity for me in daily life.
The other day my friend kindly gave me a hand in the photography studios to help me capture these images. If you have been reading my posts you will know by now that my artwork revolves around the human body. If you have never read a post this could not be more perfect an intro! More often than not my practice is about the implicit body; it relies on subtle hinting and allusions to the human form. So for once I wanted to deviate from that quite strongly and create a really direct link to the body.
As a result, these images came into existence. I have been gyming for about five years now and I absolutely love it. It is my zone, my head space. For an hour I leave the outside world behind and focus purely on the relationship between mind and body. I focus on the pain I feel, the endurance I push myself through, the tiredness and aches when I finish an exercise. I think of gyming as a discipline and it’s one I keep up as often as I can. People often underestimate the importance of stretching and often do this hurriedly and hastily. That is not the case for me. Stretching is one of the most important components of my work outs, which is probably a result of my love for yoga. So I spend a lot of time on the mats, which more often than not are in front of a mirror.
Yes, the instant connotations of a mirror mean vanity, but for me that is not the case. All of these years stretching in front of a mirror has made me notice little dents and muscles in my body that normally no one pays attention to. Because I’m stretching myself into bizarre and unusual positions, the less prominent muscles start to emerge, which I have always found incredibly fascinating. Most interesting to me are the dents and muscles surrounding my shoulder blades; there is a surprising amount of detail in this area. Up until now I have merely observed these muscular formations. Every time I see them in the gym I think about how great it would be to study them more closely. To draw them in pencil and charcoal and exaggerate them Michelangelo style. Of course, I’m not going to bring a photographer into the gym with me to document them! Not only would that draw a lot of unwanted attention but I would also probably have to fill out a whole bunch of Risk Assessments and Ethics Forms. No thanks!
So instead I thought I’d bring myself and my stretches into the studio; really highlight all these muscles through dramatic lighting. This was quite an adventurous experiment for me as it was a very explicit display of my relationship to the gym (it was also an hour of nonstop stretching for the camera – what a work out!) Yet it could not have come at a better time. Recently in uni I have been having tutorials that critique and discuss my work. They have taken a surprising turn for me as the feedback I have received is to further my exploration of the gym and this notion of head space. How funny that I thought these images were too explicit in their reference to the gym, yet that is what the tutors want to see more of? It’s my lucky day!
I quite like how the images I have posted here are essentially faceless; there’s a sense of ambiguity to them as a result. The lack of face also heightens the focus on the body. This is further highlighted by the stark black clothing (or lack of it!) against the whitened backdrop. Some incredible shadows have emerged too – perhaps I need to do some sketching of merely the shadowed areas. With this high contrast lighting, I finally get to emphasise all the little folds and creases that I have spent so long studying all this time in the gym. Artists talk about spending a certain amount of time with an artwork and sitting on it. If you think about it, I’ve been contemplating this specific work for years! So not only is it exciting to see it come to life as an artform, but it’s also a relief to finally realise and create it!