Recently I had a conversation with someone who said: “So what is your practice about?”
I skirted round the issue, dipping in and out of phrases such as: “Well, I’m really interested in loss / nostalgia / yearning….”; “the performance of the mind….”; “psychoanalysis and its influence….”.
“Yes, but what is your practice about?”
In my head I was thinking: “Hang on, didn’t I just say?”
No. So. Cross.
Anyway, I dithered about for a bit, trying to think of a better tag-line and see if I could reel in what had just unravelled. I am obsessed with “what happens if I say / do / think THAT – what will happen?” especially when it goes not the way I had hoped.
Remember those books with multiple endings? I imagine they still exist, but it’s something I distinctly remember from childhood.
If you want to see what happened when Jane closed the door, turn to page 19.
If you want to see what happened when Jane opened the door, turn to page 31.
I would have to work out every permutation of every possible combination of each story and it’s various junctions, evaluating which was the best option.
Anyway. My practice. So I was waffling round the subject, and by now I had remembered the word ‘gesture’. Oh yes, that one. Because a lot of my work is ‘about’ that. And it’s really important…I am fascinated by it. The relationship between what one sees and does. The notational relationship between eye and hand.
And I’m still thinking about my options – what happens if I say my practice is about gesture? Not just now but in the future, too?
Turn to page 64 if you want to find out what Jessa’s practice did next on GESTURE!
Turn to page 12 if you want to find out what Jessa’s practice did on SOMETHING ELSE!
Then I skirted, yes, skirted round the issue of “me” – because in my head I was thinking: “Surely it’s rude to make work about ME. Who is interested in the ‘me’ unless the ‘me’ concerned has a very unusual life with lots of dramatic twists and turns?
The thing I really haven’t been able to resolve – and I think this is the part of the issue – I have strands of work which really are, on the face of it, very different. And it feels like I am unnaturally trying to bring them together for the sake of a tag-line.
But when I really think about it, the photographic object itself to me is the manifestation of the body – a body which is no longer there…
…And the gesture is the manifestation of the thought which is no longer there.
…And the object which expresses something related to a time and space which as passed.
And yet – that is not it. It’s not just that….I don’t want to be pinned down!
Turn to page 53 if Jessa’s practice is about ‘a passing’.
Turn to page 27 if Jessa’s practice is about something else…
Earlier this year I went and saw Siobhan Davies performing from her archive, re-invigorating it with dancers who took her older work as starting points for new gestures, embodying and referencing the past as they made something new.
Here I am in time and space.
Here is my gesture to the past but I am in this moment expressing it.
I felt at home watching this. I felt at home in the archive.
She spoke about memory and experience as sort of compost heap, where things happened and fed the body. I thought: “Yes! That’s what I feel! I have come home!”
So why didn’t I say something about this in my conversation? It should be so simple – my practice is about…my practice is about…I’m practising saying what my practice is about.
I worry it’s about myself and no one else is interested and it’s indulgent and narcissistic, I said.
“Do you think Tracy Emin or Marina Abromovic wake up in the morning and worry about that?”
But is that it?
I am still reluctant to commit.
Turn to page 37 if Jessa’s practice is about herself.
Turn to page 9 if Jessa’s practice is about something else…
A long time ago I worked as a reporter and it was a useful and productive part of my career. Afterwards, when I had started working with pictures as well, I couldn’t decide if I was a writer who took photographs or a photographer who wrote. Again, decisions decisions…. It seems the very act of committing to a point of view is too much of a burden, like I need and emergency exit if it’s really “NOT THAT”.
The body as an archive…this phrase has been bothering me for some time – I guess I felt the body had to be mine… or at least be a body.
Maybe it doesn’t.
In an early piece of work, I Did, I remember the first feedback I had – the dress is like a second self, a body. And of course it is – an embodiment of hopes and fears, unrealised dreams, nostalgia and loss all at the same time. So I thought the emotional thing was what my practice was about.
Now, with this question still plaguing me, I come back to the body, the body, the body. This thing which exists itself as a signifier for the experience lived.
In Conversations with my mother I destroyed images of myself / my mother. The photograph is inadequate, I said. It doesn’t do enough. And I thought the performance of the destruction was the thing that powered me onwards. But maybe the photograph itself in that instance was the body. Here is this thing, and it stands for something – home and dreams, unrealised times, nostalgic and complicated pasts.
Turn to page 29 if Jessa…..
Turn to page 4 if…
Once when I was 13 I couldn’t decide about which school I was going to go to out of the two choices I had been offered. I had dithered so long about this it was driving my mum up the wall. Finally, when I was in the bath one evening, she told me I couldn’t get out until I had decided. I sat there until the water was really really cold, trying to work out all the permutations.
The body, the body, the body…
The body is an archive…What I see becomes part of my body. What happens to us becomes part of our bodies. Our bodies reflect what has happened and what is happening to us. I perform what has happened to me. It’s all an act.
This is my practice on this page at this moment.
Still turning the page. Still practicing.