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  • Writer's pictureAshton Blyth

For just being

This week we were tasked with bringing a piece of text that inspired us, that answered the questions "what is currently inspiring you? What have you been reading recently that is helping you develop your ideas and art making?" . It could be a book chapter, a research paper, a critical response to an artwork or exhibition, or an accompanying piece of writing to an exhibition, to be summarised to our peers in small groups.


I was in a group with George and Vlad, who kicked off the discussion with his research on watchmaking, looking at designs that involve multiple components to function, as well as measuring brain function - looking at emotional reactions to art and can they be influenced. Having been led down this road from his background in finance, looking at the value of art and what assets he could integrate in his own art to justify the value. This triggered a whole discussion on applying value to art and how value can be applied to art - time, designs, materials used, and most importantly creative thought - how do you put a value on creative thought? It would be valued based on your own self-worth as to how much you think your thought's are worth.


Discussing my own research of late, I spoke about where I am up to in planning out my animation Defining Moments of a Trans Experience , and how until recently I felt overwhelmed by the fact it seemed like I had not been creating any work, when in reality watching old childhood videos and looking through photos and reflecting on those memories and experiences is a big chunk of the work itself - as it's making me consider what were the defining moments of my trans experience.


I chose the writing Showstopper by Libro Levi Bridgeman, which was one of three commissioned texts created to accompany Cassils: Human Measure at HOME, Manchester. Human Measure was Cassils' first UK solo exhibition, running from Saturday 2 October – Sunday 12 December 2021, that I had the pleasure of visiting and meeting the curator, Bren O'Callaghan.


Below is the extract I read to my group:


Sometimes, when I write, I document my body and the bodies of those people around me - the nonbinary bodies, the surgicalized bodies, the bodies that are complicated to occupy. The bodies with the  chests that Ivan Coyote refer to as having “land mines.” 

But it’s problematic. 

How can we speak of a body that’s not documented? A body that is not seen? A body that is not  recognized? The scarred body, the unnamed body. The body that slips between the cracks of reality.  The dickless, titless body. The unexplainable body. The unknown body. The body that is beholden in  mystery and intrigue. This, of course, gives us power – what breathing person isn’t threatened by  something that they cannot define? 

But if a body can’t be recognised, it can be easily undone. If nobody knows about this body then nobody misses it either. The stats are there to prove it. Approximately 350 Trans and NB people are  killed every year for just being. 

The Queer British Art exhibition didn’t know about our bodies when they documented the years from  1861-1967. I bought a ticket for Tate Britain. I visited the site. I moved from room to room looking at the  Tukes, the Strangs, the Sargeants. I saw white bodies, male bodies, nude bodies. I saw Oscar Wilde’s  SHOWSTOPPER prison door and how small it looked. I didn’t see myself anywhere. On the canvases. On the walls. In  the cabinets.
 
There were no titless, dickless bodies


A poignant line in this extract is "Approximately 350 Trans and NB people are killed every year for just being." - for just being. This was what we first discussed, the fact that you needed to sit with that figure for a moment and feel that anger and sadness, because that's how it made you feel, and it's the truth.


We discussed the emotive response I hope to achieve with my work, and the idea of showing the vulnerability of a trans person and everything that they have to go through, and how they don't need to deal with the bigotry of small-minded people on top of that. I talked about undertaking my degree in Stoke, and how deprived the area is of representation. However, despite that, Staffordshire University was the only one out of five universities I visited that had a gender neutral toilet within walking distance, and when I got there it turned out there were gender neutral toilets in every building, including the pubs and night club. But just because the University wasn't small-minded, it didn't mean that the people weren't, and how Stoke is full of communities of old, white, racist people that have a problem with the Pakistani communities within Stoke, because they don't see or understand representation - ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion - they don't have it in their gated areas.


Coming back to the extract I read out - this is what I want to do more of. Reflective writing while revisiting old memories and watching childhood footage. So I'm going to buy myself a journal to kickstart the motivation, and keep it to hand while I'm working to be writing my thoughts down throughout.


Finally, George finished us off with some philosophy by Alan Watts. Lately he's been listening to techno music that features philosophy in the background, in particular one track that features this Alan Watts who has a catalogue of philosophy talks on YouTube - what is time, what is money etc., but the one George chose to share with us was called Prickles and Goo. In summary, he suggests that there are two personality types: the Prickles, that want rigour, precision and are intellectual, who accuse other people of being "disgustingly vague and mystical"; and the Goo, who accuse the prickly people of being "mere skeletons who have no flesh on their bones". But the Universe is neither prickles, nor goo, it's Gooey-Prickles and Prickly-Goo and we're always playing with the two! This clip summed up pretty much exactly what we'd been talking about within my own project - how the prickly say that there is only two genders, and I'm saying actually there's a gooey spectrum in the middle of the two.


George discussed how he refers back to this philosophy while he's making work: getting too precise? Chill and let the work breathe a bit; Getting too laid-back? Get on and do some structured work! As a commercial artist, he's always had a set outcome, and a set date to work towards, and maybe he needs to just pick one of the many ideas running through his head, let himself go a bit gooey and with the flow of it and that will lead him through a project to his 'end-goal' without even realising it, but the journey will have helped him discover so much more because he let the journey itself drive the art rather than a client.







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