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Dirt in the lens: on matter and memory in photographic performance

Dirt in the lens: on matter and memory in photographic performance

Bowes, Simon ORCID: 0000-0002-9189-0322 (2019) Dirt in the lens: on matter and memory in photographic performance. Performance Research, 24 (6). pp. 38-46. ISSN 1352-8165 (Print), 1469-9990 (Online) (doi:

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Responding to the theme of ‘Animism and the Elemental’ Dirt in the Lens explores two historic image-series Claude Cahun’s Je tends le bras (1932) and Ana Mendieta Siluetas (1973-1980) alongside a contemporary work, Cassils’ Becoming an Image (2013): Cahun’s arms extending from within a hollowed rock; Mendieta’s relief hollowed in a bed of earth; Cassils punching and kicking a 2,000-Lb block of clay in memory of murdered transgender persons.

Each work unites the photographic, the sculptural and the performative. The lens opens to ‘the vibration of appearances which is the cradle of things’ (Merleau-Ponty: 1964: 18), body and earth are united ’in the perception of a world undergoing continuous birth’ (Ingold 2011: 74). The paper discusses Cahun, Mendieta and Cassils in relation to Stengers’ conception of the ‘animate earth’ (2012: 6). The photographic performance becomes an assemblage (agencement) which ‘lures us into feeling’, generating ‘metamorphic transformations in our capacity to affect and be affected’ (9). The performances bear out ‘that we are not alone in the world’ (ibid.). Each frames the earth as ‘sentient’ (Ingold 2011: 12). Perceptual changes are understood as a function of molecular movements (Bergson 1896: 8); flesh and thought are understood in term of images.

After Stengers, we may ‘freely speak of magic’ (7), since the artists change everything [they] touch’ (8) — but the change belongs, first of all, to the earth. Whilst the performances may remain ultimately anthropocentric works, each proposes that there are only ‘nonhuman becomings’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 169). Each connects the ‘phenomenological body with cosmological forces’, testifying to the ‘body's immersion and participation in nature, chaos, materiality’ (Grosz 2008: 3). In each, neither the human body nor the earth in which it is immersed is ‘simply as sign to be read’ but also ‘a force to be reckoned with’ (Grosz 1994: 120).

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Performance, Research, Animism, Intuition, Duration, Claude Cahun, Ana Mendieta, Cassils, Isanbelle Stengers, Henri Bergson, John Berger, Elizabeth Grosz
Subjects: T Technology > TR Photography
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2020 09:29

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