THIRST / thirst comes glistening out of the water
Note 1: What happens
I bring a human being to a natural site of water, at the water’s edge they lay their body on sheets of paper that have been coated with an iron salt & potassium ferricyanide solution. The body lies without movement as the sun exposes the paper with the outline of the body. Sometimes the wind moves the paper, or moves something that is on the paper – a piece of clothing, hair, some part of the earth that I have placed on the paper.
After two to six minutes, I take the pieces of paper and develop them in the nearby water. Once in the water, the wind, the waves, or the current move the paper causing marks of distress, crimps, folds, scratches and algae stains.
The resulting blue image on heavy water color paper is a remnant of the collision of the human body, the water, the sun, and the wind. The resulting blue image is an evidence of a physical interaction yet has the implication of the mysterious dimension where body meets the soul.
The blueprint reads like an x-ray of the body and together the print form an index of human sizes and shapes. Historically body parts have been the basis for units of measurement: the foot from the foot, the inch from the thumb, the cubit from the forearm, the fathom from fingertip to fingertip of outstretched arms, among others. The Body Mass Index is a value derived from the weight and height of an individual that was devised by Adolphe Quetelet in 1835 to define the “normal man” and is used today in public heath applications. Anthropometry is the systematic measurement of the human body and is used in modern design, architecture, and the development of consumer products.
The mark of the body the sun has etched on the paper is a life size replica from a catalog of human bodies. In the piece, LINE UP, six life-sized bodies in indexical posture are placed adjacent to each other. While size and shape are the basis for identification, misidentification, classification, comparison, and generalization – here the bodies, linked by similarity, are defined as individuals.
Note 2: Why site specific
It is important that the artwork is made at the site of a natural body of water.
I am always interested in the earth and the connection to the earth. Water is a part of the earth, and water is a part of the composition of the matter of the body, and water is necessary for sustained life. Water is also a material in the making of the artwork. The print once exposed to the sun needs to be developed in water for the image to appear.
In my projects of landscape , and water use I always bump into the thorny concept of land ownership. The illogic of owning land rather than maintaining a stewardship of land that one is using seems obvious in the large presence of nature. The words of Woody Guthrie’s song, “This land is your Land” express my conclusion - “this lands belongs to you and me” . So doing the artwork at the physical site allows everyone to connect with the land and the water at THAT place.
The water is a material of the art work, - it is what will change the iron chemical solution, initially pale yellow, then dark green after exposure to sunlight, into a brilliant blue and white print. The water becomes a part of the chemical compound on the paper, once dried the residue of the LA River, or salt of the Pacific Ocean remain on the paper. It is part of what makes the chemical change and it is what remains.
Where water comes from can be mysterious, it comes from the tap, it comes from the garden hose; there is no connection between the source of the water and where it is delivered. Going to the site of the water to make the artwork, draws attention to the waters connection to the land and provides evidence of the source of that particular water.
At the site of the natural body of water, the human subject that will lay their body on the paper is a witness to the body of water, and a witness to me, at times submerging my body in the water as I develop the image on the paper. The water, the body of the subject that blocks the sunlight from some portions of the paper, the paper, the sunlight, the wind and my body moving the paper through the chemical change are the ingredients, the material, the essence of the artwork.
Note 3: Materiality of human body
I have chosen for this project to work with the bodies of women I define as elders. My interest was to investigate aging, to make prints that enacted the invisibility that comes with getting older, and to understand the position of societal erasure with regards to the knowledge, proficiency, and assurance that comes being older. (with being the matriarch.)
I had just turned 60, and was excited to be in the final third of my life. It was a time of liberation, a time when I knew who I was and how I wanted to spend my time. My ideas about my age seemed at odds with what was expressed around me.
I was w at the LA River making cyanotype prints with my 100-Foot rope, a project about land ownership using the symbol of measurement the 100-Foot rope provided. I had some extra sheets that were out dated, so I experimented by laying my body and the paper and exposed my first body photogram. I developed the paper in the water and was instantly intrigued by the magical image, the ghostlike white shadow on blue background.
I saw at once that this was a way to investigate aging, the evidence of the physical body with the aura of invisibility that the print provided. I decided to catalog the sizes and shapes of women sixty and over. The white shadows would provide the form of the matriarch, with the shadows blurring the boundary between blue and white implying the invisibility that crept over the physical substance.
Note 4 : Anthropometries Redux
The one to one process of the photogram creates a life-sized print that is powerful but does not reveal details. The life size and the blue color create an inevitable reference to the prints of Yves Klein.
Yves Klein’s body prints were made with nude models, his “living brushes” and his patented “International Klein Blue” color to make mono prints by pressing their bodies against the white canvas. The prints were called Anthropometries after the study of body measurements.
My cyanotype photograms are a repudiation of Yves Klein’s work, although one among many artists, one notable being Carolee Schneemann. My cyanotypes are the inverse of Klein’s print, his bodies are blue on a white background, and my bodies are white surrounded by a blue background. Klein’s figures are sexualized and objectified. I understand that they were created in the sprit of the time, they were a performance in the gallery, with Klein conducting the models to make the prints; but they employ the fetishized female form that diminishes a woman’s worth and self-determination.
The important difference, or my contemporary response is that the cyanotypes are done with clothing on the bodies. The nude female body has been canonized in in photography and painting endlessly creating an idealized and unobtainable form. The outline of the bodies in my work are as they are seen in life, with the layer clothing, the layer of protection against the elements, the layer of dignity and nobility that clothing confers in our unconscious perception. Seeing the white shadows with the translucence of clothing presents a link to humanity, culture and customs but the lack of detail, in the face etc. presents the humanity in a universal way. Also the bodies are given agency with the addition of their heads, the body of the Klein Anthropometries are headless.
Notes 5 to 10 pending
Meg Madison July 2015