“gains”, “sets” and “reps” … (between body-building and body-language), 2018/19.
install at Firstdraft June 2019, photos credit jessica maurer.
install at BLINDSIDE as a part of group exhibition ‘Presence’ curated by brigid hansen and zoe bastin/ photo credit jess curry, 2018.
STILLS FROM “gains”, “sets” and “reps” … (between body-building and body-language), 2018, 4 MINUTES, 48 SECONDS.
This work began by examining the commonalities between ballet and bodybuilding. (And it became a dedication to my membership at Doherty’s gym, Brunswick.)
It is reasonable to view both as unsustainable practices, which desperately aim for what most would consider to be unattainable forms. Both require obsessive focus, sometimes, resulting in disproportionate muscle groups.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1975 publication, ‘Body Shaping for Women’, outlined exercises to “empower” women. This program became part of my common routine, five to six times per week for five weeks. I saw a personal trainer who translated Arnie’s program to a contemporary gym setting.
I signed up to Doherty’s; a tough, equipment heavy space, where the walls are covered with inspirational images of pumped up physiques. All equipment set facing large flat-screen wall-mounted tvs playing repeat reels of body-shaping competitions and infomercials.
To distract and motivate: to compare, consume and capitalise from.
Observations of, and comparison to, peripheral bodies informed my understanding of my own strength, hierarchical position and how far I was willing to extend myself each session. Interrogating my relationship with discipline, and in that arriving at the gratification of physical punishment, was one challenge.
Another was finding verbal/written language and body/performed language to convey my experience in order to create a tangible/decipherable ‘result’ or artwork. As Kathy Acker asserts in ‘Against Ordinary Language: The Language of The Body’, in this space there is a rejection of ‘ordinary’ or verbal language to allow space for a meditative practice based on counting, exerting and failing. What results is finding oneself without access to ready-formed language.
This work considers body-dysmorphia, body-idolisation, body-focus, body-worship.
I found pleasure in observing surrounding humans and their relationship with equipment – tenderness with apparatus – frustration at the point of muscle exhaustion – the pursuit of failure and the protocol surrounding the selection of which weight in what order.
It was difficult to deny which bodies felt entitled to more space, to make more noise, to make more sweat, more scent. And it was difficult to ignore the potentiality of these as violent acts.
This research (training) period allowed for an insight into a complex space previously unknown to me. I began to see this gym as an equally intimidating as it was welcoming environment. And as an important, curious meeting place for individuals of differently able and gendered/gender non-conf bodies, with a breadth in presence of socio-economically classed and racially-identified communities.
I felt the type of understanding that exists in the collective commonality of a similar pursuit; that we were all there to exercise. To get “gains” do “sets” and repeat “reps”.
1 “To punish is to exercise.” – Michel Foucault, ‘Discipline and punish’, 180, 1975.
2 Kathy Acker,‘Against Ordinary Language: The Language of The Body’, 20-21, 1992.