I love the human body. I am enthralled with and entranced by it. I love the body when it is still and when it is in motion of almost any kind. I’ve climbed hard, spent years waking for before dawn yoga, danced excessively, fought in play, and just played. I think my enrapturement with bodies is becoming an obsession.
Our bodies are us in the most intimate sense. They are deeply tied to our most intimate selves. In many senses they are our self. We cannot leave them. They will be with us whether we love or hate them, and we go through life struggling to balance our often conflicting desires to spoil them and to have ourselves and others adore them.
My interest in bodies goes way back, but my use of them as a canvas began in 2009 when I was doing a short residency at the Archie Bray Foundation. I got to the Bray after finishing a large and long photographic project, and I wanted to return to more physical work. I spent time I building ceramic torsos and ended up creating an installation work called Fall of Man, where I installed the torsos in abandoned buildings and projected imagery onto them. I made these pieces as a way to look at the transience of the human-made world. The project I had just finished was a multi-year photographic project of US National Forest Roadless Lands, and much of the imagery I used was from that work. I was trying to examine the contrast between the natural world, the manmade world and ourselves, the creators who were resting somewhere between the two. I also projected twitter feeds and images of environmental damage onto the ceramic torsos as another way to examine the temporal nature of our contemporary world. (More about Fall of Man in my TEDx talk at Napa Valley, “Life As A Canvas For Art.”)
In 2013 I began working on body projection – projecting images and video onto my own body. I had just gotten back from Kashmir where I had gone to work on my Enemies Project, and I was struggling with a mild case of PTSD. I found myself returning again and again to the scores of painful stories I had heard from people who had found themselves caught in the middle of the titanic struggle between India and Pakistan. As I was working on the material I brought back from the Enemies Project, my pieces became more abstract and more expressionistic. I had taken photographs of small metal number plates that adorn thousands of anonymous mass graves in Kashmir, and I projected them onto my body to explore the way that conflict had embedded itself in my skin. I exploded the number markers until the projections became absolute abstractions, and I became a part of their canvas like the image at the top of this post. My body became a canvas for the stories that my mind carried as a vessel.
In 2014 I created a body canvas series with clouds projected on my body to explore an idea that we are like clouds – shaped by the landscape of life that we drift over and the other people that we come into contact with. It is what I feel in my work. The people I have met in my projects and experiences around the world are more than memories. They are part of who I am, as if they have become embedded in my skin like tattoos. In spring of 2014 I used my body as a canvas for my work in a projection performance I created for the end of my TEDx talk in Napa. I called the performance “We Are Clouds,” and it was about this idea of our lives being transformed by others.
After the TEDx talk I kept thinking about how our lives are so transformed by our experiences with others. I used this idea as the basis of an interactive projection installation that I also called “We Are Clouds,” in which two people standing in front of the installation change it by touching one another. The work forces people to interact and they create their own experience by doing so. I’ll do my next blog post about that work, which is now one of my main projects.
Meanwhile, my body is still a canvas. Life is a canvas for art as action, and my body is a sketchbook.
Other recent body canvas works…