By the artist, Aug 7 2017 12:42PM
It’s become clearer to me working in UCD that while theoretically and methodologically I’m at home in the College of Social Sciences and Law, equally ‘fieldwork’ to other colleges and spaces in the university is essential to how the work will take shape here. In particular at UCD I’m interested in spaces that focus on the care, treatment and development of the body. At the vet hospital this month, animal physio Maria Gomez showed me video documentation of animals in treatment (particularly the previous successes of the hydrotherapy pool for dogs with spinal injuries), and we discussed the interpretation of animal pain and the different scales used to access the subjectivity of creatures who don’t vocalize as we do. I was also lucky to visit and photograph the equipment in the high performance gym, courtesy of Adam Grainger and Eamonn Delahunt, which is a fascinating environment, neatly demarcating the line between the pursuit of elite sport and everyday fitness.
I’m a member of the pool and gym here, both for my own personal training and as part of how I’m developing artwork at the moment. Participation in and close analysis of a series of the different fitness classes were essential in how I developed the script for a new work I presented in Stockholm in May, titled BREAKDOWN (video trailer here). This was a lecture performance about capitalism, biopolitics, burnout and trauma that was delivered as a spin class in a gym called Friskis&Svettis (a kind of a co-op model, where members can teach classes in lieu of paying membership – what I was told was a ‘very Swedish’ kind of fitness culture). Scripting text with a consideration of fitness choreography and the performer’s potential breathing difficulty isn’t something I’ve done before. This is probably the most physically demanding performance I have choreographed for an audience, and as participants in the class gritted their teeth and sweated their way through it, I considered the occasionally sadistic dynamic of this kind of instruction as well as the surging, fleeting satisfaction this seems to bring about for people who choose it.
As lectures at UCD are over for the term, the main body of students on campus at the moment are postgraduate researchers. There are posters on all the noticeboards, hopefully tabbed rows of student phone numbers and emails inviting participation. They remind me how much I also rely on the goodwill of others in generating artworks, trying to find people willing to ask and think through a question together. So I’ve enthusiastically volunteered as a research subject, which has given me the chance to experience lab environments in Psychology (a virtual reality experiment) and Physiotherapy (a muscle fatigue study). It’s been very informative to experience the ‘backstage’ of how other researchers structure their engagement with people and data, particularly the different ethical and confidentiality protocols involved.
I’ve been developing a conversation with Ross Neville (College of Health Science) about the sociology of sport, and have benefitted from reading papers by Anthony McIntyre (College of Humanities) about sport and screen image, particularly his recent work on Conor McGregor. I presented at a PhD seminar led by Lizbeth Goodman, Professor of Inclusive Design at SMARTlab, and in May I made a presentation to the College of Social Sciences and Law Council meeting. I’m very inspired by the new Centre for Gender, Feminisms and Sexualities that was launched in April. The centre is co-hosted by the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice & the School of English, Drama and Film, with Ursula Barry and Anne Mulhall as co-directors. The launch event activated a profound vision not only of intersectional feminism, but also of academic work paired with activist practice.
As I divide my time between artwork and lecturing work (in NCAD), like many academics, the summer tends to be the most intensive and beneficial time for my own research. I don’t like to mystify the idea of an artist’s studio or the work that happens there, but at the same time I have to acknowledge that it is an essential place of generation, before the work can be activated in more public or social processes. In July and August I am focused on making new sculptural work, the kind of thinking that requires days-in-a-row of immersion, of leaving an idea down on a table in the evening and picking it up again the next morning. Materials in the studio include casting plaster and other powders that are used as nutritional supplements. At the heart of this enquiry are fundamentally sculptural processes – of casting and shaping both objects and bodies. As this unfolds it’s been exciting to visit some of UCD’s workshops and see first-hand the expertise of some of the technical staff here, such as Mike Donnelly and Derek Reilly in the School of Engineering – even to discover that UCD houses a foundry! I plan for the works made over the next couple of months to be considered and used later in the year as what Erin Manning would describe (via William Forsythe) as ‘choreographic objects’: physical propositions for different forms of social engagement and political participation.
Sarah Browne, BREAKDOWN, 2017. Peformance, 45 minutes. Performer: Shirley Harthey Ubilla. Photo: Mikaela Krestensen.
Cast replacement knee joint (cobalt), School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, UCD.