PULSE: Reflections on the body, is a Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) project curated by Mark Bayly. It comprises a performance program and a series of floor talks and public conversations, all in relation to how our lived experiences have impacted our physical selves.
The human body is an amazing feat of biological and manufactured architecture. Bayly describes how, given the continued acceleration of computer technology and biomedicine, prosthetics have challenged the traditional conventions differentiating the natural from the artificial body; “From the everyday use of false teeth and spectacles, to the advancement of hearing implants, pacemakers and artificial limbs, we’re witnessing a significant shift in our understanding of what it is to be human.”
Through this modern evolution of our transhuman selves, Bayly argues that “the relationship between our physical and conscious self provides a universal and inexhaustible area of investigation” and the exhibition demonstrates how contemporary artists are exploring ideas about the body and what it means to be human.
PULSE incorporates the work of 27 contemporary Australian artists; James Batchelor, Alexander Boynes, Robert Boynes, Julie Brooke, Michal Glikson, Marie Hagerty, Travis H. Heinrich, The Kingpins (Angelica Mesiti, Técha Noble, Emma and Katie Price), Jay Kochel, Richard Larter, Gary Lee, Lindy Lee, Peter Maloney, Chenoeh Miller and Little Dove Theatre Art, Nell, John Nelson, Sidney Nolan, Patsy Payne, Tim Phillips, Patricia Piccinini, Jude Rae, Sarah Rice, David Sequeira, Garry Stewart and Australian Dance Theatre, Christian Thompson, Charles White and Michael Zavros.
The collaborating artists have reflected on the body and its functions as both a physical and metaphysical phenomenon. Some focus on life, like Sydney artist Nell, with her installation entitled ‘a white bird flies in the mist, a black bird flies in the night, a woman walks, wild and free, she is not afraid to die’ (2008) where a bronzed woman leads a posse of 33 small, hand-blown glass ghosts, representing each year in the artist’s life and symbolising the impermanence of the human body.
Other artists respond to the challenge of living out their personal cultural and sexual journeys when living in strict societies, while for others the body is a mirror of self-consciousness, introspection and interiority. Exhibiting artist Jude Rae creates portraits that are firmly grounded in realism as she attends exclusively to the face and provides no clues to the background of her subjects in terms of dress or belongings. In each portrait, the eyes of her subject are closed, affording no engagement with the viewer. In closing the subject’s eyes, Rae presents a sympathetic employment of daydreaming and a connection with the inner self.
PULSE poses three important questions: What are the constituent elements of the human body? What relationships do these have to our health, and to pathology? And, what drives us to define what is a ‘normal’ body? The exhibiting artists each provide an individual response to these phenomenological concerns, from the inner and outer realms of human anatomy, psychology and identity, forcing the audience to confront these questions and attempt to find some answers in assessing the values represented in each work against their own.