Contemporary Exhibition Practice | Group performance
Group Members: Ale, Kelly, Chelsea, Ty, Georgina
Artist contacted: Jared.Shibari
Original date and location: March 28th , Gostrey
Park, Farnham, Surrey, UK
Actual date and location: Various, depending on the location of the chosen trees
Performance: learn a knot and use a rope to perform it on a tree that you feel connected to.
Available on: https://alebrev.wixsite.com/boundtoearth
Since the environment is something that concerns us all, more or less in our art practices as in our quotidian life, we decided to create a project that could restore and bring benefit to our interdependent relationship with nature. Our work, “Bound to Earth”, revolves around the idea of giving back something that we, as humans, have taken from the environment, and, by doing this, to create an experience of connectivity among humans and “Mother Earth”. The aim of the preformative act was then to revive and heal our connection with nature, through a collective symbolic gesture, performed with a rope, which emphasises the bond between beings and nature that we seem to have lost in the routine of our daily life.
Our journey to the realisation of this project began with the research of an artist whose work would eventually respond to the environment or address nature in some way. After a discussion with the group, we decided that our inspirational artist, would have been Jared.Shibari, whose work revolves around the practice of Shibari, a Japanese ritual of aesthetic bondage performed with the use of a rope. What impressed us about his work was how the artist translated this practice, which is often sexualised in our western modern society, into something that can actually be applied to various public objects such as rocks, post boxes, fences …
Researching the use of Shibari in nowadays contemporary art scene, I came across the work of many different artists, among which Kinoko hajime and Anne Newton, who have completely different approaches to this art of bondage but both equally effective. While the first one uses rope in order to create structures that function as extensions of the human body, the other one has a simpler approach that reveals a closer relationship with nature as she works with rocks and tie them with all sorts of natural materials.
A middle ground between their works is represented by the practice of Janaina Mello and Daniel Landini. These two artists, in fact, chose to completely remove the human body from their work, therefore employing the rope as a sculptural object, able to build up solid figures of trees. The structures created through the rope, connecting both interrelated and independent parts, made us realise the power of this material to create networks and its intrinsic quality of connectedness.
Although I really enjoyed the work of the previous artists, their works as the one of Aaron McPolin, remains predominantly aesthetic to me, so I started digging into the origins of Shibari and the use of rope in the Japanese culture. I discovered that this ritual was initially known as Kinbaku, a practice that saw the use of the rope in a non-sexualized way, but for more practical reasons indeed. Reading further into the different employs that rope had had over the time, I found out that it was also used for spiritual purposes and still is. A particular kind of rope, as a matter of fact, can embrace purifying qualities becoming “Shimenawa”, which is a sacred twists of rice straw rope that serves as a boundary between the sacred and the profane, used to ward off diseases and evils or for purification rituals. These sacred ropes can be found on Shinto shrines, Tori gates, trees and landmark rocks. If found around a tree or a rock, it is believed that that object is a “Yorishiro”, that is an object that attracts spirits; this means that, by putting a Shimenawa around a tree, people can prevent it for being cut down, since it is believed that it would bring misfortune.
While pursuing the researches, we started thinking about incorporating trees in our performance as a symbolic presence of the natural realm but at the same time we had to be careful not to fall into cultural appropriation. We began to think about how could we create a public happening in which we could exploit the qualities of the rope to create an interdependent network among people and trees.
An important influence for the idealization of the performance itself has been Naharin Ohad, the inventor of an innovative language movement called Gaga. Accessible to anyone, this practice is based on delicacy and small gestures that help the dancers to connect with their souls and listen to their bodies. What fascinated us most about this constantly evolving language was its power to bring people together and to create this collective events where people would act as a whole. Especially the sense of togetherness and connectivity with ourselves and others was something that we wanted to include in our performative act.
From these researches and the influence of Jared, we elaborated the idea of using the rope in a metaphorical but also literal sense to create a bond, a connection among us and nature and to do so through a series of movements that we could have all collectively performed alongside the public as a whole.
Since I believed that informing the public about the reasons behind our performance was an essential part on the project, I initially proposed to do a workshop. I thought that we could discuss with people our relationship with the environment while building our own ropes with recycled materials before putting them around trees, or that we could have even cooperated at the creation of a single long rope which could have been placed, later on, around one of the oldest trees in the UK, a yew in Anakerwyke park in Surrey, as symbol.
I am not sure awareness is what we were looking for but probably something more like self-analyzation and reflection on the significance of the environment and the importance to give back not just to take because at the end we are all bound to earth and we depend on it.
With the outbreak of Covid-19 we had to revise the project and made an accessible online version of it through the creation of a website (https://alebrev.wixsite.com/boundtoearth). Instead of advertising it to a lot of people, we only asked to a few that could participate, for practical reasons. In a way I still performed for those two people who joined me.
On the day of the performance, me, Aurora and Siddhesh practiced together the knots we were going to make while I explained them the project and the symbolic significance of the gesture we were going to make and then I asked them to perform it on a tree that they felt connected to. I managed to document all the performances and at the end I asked them for a few written lines about their relationship with their tree.
The fact that, due to isolation, everyone had to perform by their own made the work more personal and I think the overall project benefited from it. We felt that, as in Jared work, the gesture would have been more powerful if performed on something that we personally related to, as if the bond we were creating was just a symbol for what we felt. Moreover, I particularly enjoyed walking across Farnham to find the trees of the people with me and finding out about their stories on the way. I also believe that this new, more spread, location affected the work in a positive way because it allowed us to spread our network across a larger area and to create a deeper connection that exists beyond the physical because it is indeed created by our moments of intimacy with nature.
I think that overall we managed pretty well to conclude the project, I am proud the dynamic of the group even if sometimes the communication could have been better; I was happy to see how we overcame obstacles and discussed problems working together towards solutions. Collaborating with a professional artist actually helped a lot with practicalities regarding the use of rope; almost none of us, in fact, knew anything about this material or the art of Shibari, but, thanks to the suggestions and advises on videos and safety measures provided by Jared, we all managed to learn a bit of this bondage art and the meaning of some of the knots.
Although at the beginning I was a bit unsure about the relevance of Shibari within the wider context of the environment, that is what I wanted to explore, when I started researching it in a deeper sense, I began to see a sort of connection between this practice and its objects, that lies in the interaction of the material with the lines and forms of the object. I discovered a sort of new language that lies in the gestures and particularly in the community of the movement. I believe the influence of this art in our performances allowed us to rediscover in a way our personal body language toward nature.