In the first photographs and videos I made, in the earliest days of my research, the human body was referenced through the presence of objects which recall it in its absence, either through their own anthropomorphic qualities or through the affordances they suggest. In these works, such objects as rolled-bedding or chairs seemed to me, to stand as proxies or substitutes for the absent human body.
My work has repeatedly staged or disclosed some link between the different sites; the different gaps or intervals or varieties of silence with which I’ve found myself working and the body; the repressed body; the absent body and its traces or proxies.
These preoccupations form one of the threads that have woven in out of my research practice, emerging in different forms at different points, in relation to different sites and works, with differing degrees of prominence. Sometimes, even where this relationship has not been an explicit part of a work’s final performance it has been a part of that work’s development, for example in February 2020’s semi-autobiographical ‘Between our words I will trace your presence’, a performance for radio, lines omitted from the final text, which deals with what is concealed or repressed in silences between a father and son, read:
‘The body, he found, required either conformity or silence. Unable to conform, he too, like the father, chose silence.’
Looking back, I believe that it was discussions with Julieanna Preston on the subject of breathing, fused with my interest in objects whose form or function imply the presence of a human body, coupled with my interest in pauses, gaps and “silences”, which was in turn informed by John Cage’s work and by Heinrich Böll’s Murke’s Collected Silences, which led to my wanting to work with hospital ventilators.
As my work with these machines progressed, their significance within it was subject to an accretion of ideas, but the initial impulse was relatively straightforward: here were machines which exhibited a “breathing” action and which could be started and stopped, to create both a rhythm of breathing and its cessation and absence; to create pauses and gaps between breaths; hesitations like those collected by Murke, in Böll’s story.
My work with ventilators culminated in an installation at HKS, Bergen, in May 2019, which explored this alternation of breathing and hiatus, in relation to a participant’s own embodied presence, by having the machines sited in the gallery respond to the presence and movement of a (human) body in the space. However, in these initial experiments, I was beginning to speculatively play-with and to record the properties of these machines and also to experiment with the consequences of siting them in different ways. Looking back, I can also see that at this stage, I was still thinking a great deal about the possibility of mediating an audience’s experience of the ventilators, using video.