Commercial camouflage, industry, hand made fakes, recycling and a culture of offering – processes of change, money making and everyday life. The last few days of the residency were spent realising two main projects – a photography/video documentary of costume pieces staged in everyday spaces and the creation of hilly structures in wood and paper.
I’ve been using photography and film to document people at work. The abundance of materials and colours, both man made and natural, have been a constant inspiration to me visually. I’ve found myself wanting to work with a combination of found objects, man-made materials and organic material like wood and banana leaf.
I’ve been looking particularly at the different physicality’s of the people I’ve seen in both urban and rural environments. I’ve been interested to see how the person doing the craft or labour almost completely physically embodies what they are doing through the sheer repetition of the action.
This led to the creation of a series of staged images entitled ‘Keep Moving’ which incorporates costume. The images look at visual expressions of flights of the imagination and perhaps an insight into the more poetic world of day dream, imagination and play. Focus was given to the idea of the outdoors seeping into the everyday and the notion that if you stop moving, nature or society will catch up and consume you.
As documentary style snap shots or portrait shots, the photographs are an attempt to create and ‘capture’ a heightened expression of the physical experience of being in that place. I’m interested in people and their relationship to their surroundings, the materials and structures around them, as well as their individual personalities and how I can use a staged image to present both worlds as one. In another way, they are almost like alternative holiday snaps of the familiar places and faces I’d encountered during my time in Hikkaduwa.
Inspiration for one of the costume pieces – a large plastic rucksack – came from the industry of replicas and fakes I saw everywhere in both Hikkaduwa and Colombo. Garment making is the biggest industry in Sri Lanka but it was the much practiced process of copying designs of popular items to create fake or imitation pieces which I found most interesting. I bought a fake branded rucksack in Colombo and I was charmed by how ‘almost’ perfect it was – it was nearly the same thing, but not quite. It was familiar but as if it was something else in disguise. It became a popular piece for the youngest of those featured in the series who likened it to a large, colourful school bag.
Everyday routines, the environment, transformations, materials and the staged image, continually feed into my practice and play with performance. The opportunity to develop a new project using new mediums like costume and photography with people from the local area has aided a clear development in my work with narrative.
I’m interested in creating an open space for the poetic and absurd to coexist. For the photography/costume project I tried to maintain a minimalist approach to the materials I worked with, following my instincts and my own curiosity into the world surrounding me. I then worked with the people featured in the images to create compositions that were a mixture of their everyday routine as well as something more fantastical based on the theme of ‘Keep Moving’. In this way, each image was a communication, a play with the person featured in the work. The live staging of the shots with people wearing unusual attachments to the body was a fun and interesting process. Their staged presence within the image presented the live experience alongside the more cerebral or imagined body experience of what it is like to physically be in that space and what the environment means to that person in their everyday life and routine. All of them invested in the play of the work in their own way and I enjoyed seeing and hearing what they thought of it all. The first response to the images and the costume attachments was often ‘lasani’ which means ‘beautiful’. I liked that the strange costume pieces, which were often uncomfortable or restrictive to wear, were embraced by those who wore them in the pictures and that they felt they could take some ownership over them or relate to them in their own way.
From industrious bodies to industry itself.
I visited a tea factory just outside Galle which still uses old victorian machinery to process their famous ‘white tip’ or ‘silver tip’ tea. The visit left a big impression on me. The machines were old, with mechanisms showing and they were full of character. The female operators who fed the machines tea leaves and shifted processed tea to different parts of the factory were also interesting.
I was intrigued by the implication of physicality and the body in a duet of forms I saw being created by the factory. The tea mounds seem to sit back silently, born out of the continuous spewing out of rich, black product from the large, victorian machines. I instantly liked them and their character and began to create manifestations of their form and shape, translating their weight and texture in different medium.
They sit in a never-ending down pour
– an automised environmental catastrophe.
The weight of waste.
The guilt of too much.
The constant feeding,
blinding all the senses.
The machines produce,
and the people consume,
and we construct our lives
as dictated by those who
and those who
can produce more.
All the while the thinning hands of the feeder of machines grow stiff like bark.
The work is still ongoing and I am currently collating all my visual and audio material to aid in the creation of a performance piece which will be presented at the end of February in Glasgow. More details to follow soon….
…On further reflection, I see that throughout my work I’ve been looking at ways to bring the body and person closer to an experience of something. Immersive in someway but I aim to capture the imagination, pausing it at the point where both worlds are in shot. Being escapist is freeing. Operating only in the imagination is dangerous and can sometimes aid in a masking of the world and self delusion. But when things are not fair and we don’t understand, where can we go to find something that is stronger, wiser and more comforting than anything else? I think it is in our connection to each other and to the earth. I realise that everyone I met on my residency already have a close connection with the environment and with their daily work and practice. There is a culture of offering which seems to influence a balance for many people – a balance between themselves and the world of abundance which surrounds them perhaps. People are very hard working and determined in lots of ways and sometimes being imaginative, creative and playful gets set aside as not as constructive. However, when creatively engaged, as were those in the photographs, there was a clear mindfulness and focus which I admired. It’s an honesty, which, as a artist I both crave and fear. All in all, I want to say Thank You to those who played with me, to those who showed me their beautiful country and to those who helped me on the residency. My imagination has been well and truly captured.