My research residency at the Foundling Museum resulted in a limited edition series of postcards and a talk on the 25th March, 2014, with contributions from writer Deborah Levy.
Extract from talk:
Two pictures on a wall – Begin with a gesture.
Where does it begin? These two images have hung on my wall for the last few years.
The one on the right – a band of boys stopped on a country road – is an anonymous image used as the front of a postcard. The back contains no further information except to say: This space, as well as the back, may now be used for communication but for inland only.
The other image is also anonymous and also a postcard and was given to me by a friend who said she thought of me when she saw it.
These two images have moved around a bit but they are always adjacent to each other – girls on one side, boys on the other. There is always some space between them and they remain separated from each other by the borders of their respective images and by their frames.
Coming from a background in choreography and movement, I’m always drawn to looking at the deliberate patterning and arrangement of bodies in space and doubtless this is why I’ve usually placed them somewhere nearby whilst I write. I enjoy noticing how a deliberate uniform movement, such as this gesture performed by the girls, carries tiny discrete variations as it plays out over their individual bodies. Some girls touch their ears, some their hair – others’ hands seem to meet behind their neck. Different girls, differently direct their gaze to the camera (or not) and have different ways of balancing their weight between their turned-out feet. The tonal arrangement of clothing – white interspersed with grey and black – serves to highlight certain figures or make others recede. The girl at the apex of the triangle with the dark dress and hands touching her neck – was she picked for her ability to gaze unflinchingly?
One of the first images, I came across when I began my research at the Foundling museum looked strangely familiar:
Girls arranged in a similar but different pattern, their feet also turned out, but this time closed in a kind of ballet first position and their arms held up and in front of them.
Their bodies are more rigid than those of the girls on my wall. Clearly they have been schooled to throw their shoulders back, chests out and elbows held high. The discipline of their position is accentuated by the visible shine on the boots of the girls nearest the camera and by their white aprons worn as part of their uniform. They already look like they might be maids or nurses.
But what are they doing? First I think I see invisible cymbals which the girls hold apart – ready to crash together on a given signal; next I see that they might be holding up a piece of laundry – perhaps a sheet –waiting to fold it with another person; then I imagine that perhaps in fact they are wielding invisible batons and that each girl is charged with conducting an invisible orchestra…. The more I look at the girls, and see their subtle variations, I begin to see other possibilities – a stretch arrested mid-movement, a gesture of surrender…. Movement designed to train and regulate bodies in a particular direction, becomes unruly and multiple in my imagination.