What are we without our bodies? A mind? A soul? A mere scattering of stardust? Svetlana Bailey ponders these questions in Without my body, a solo exhibition of current work by the New York-based artist.
The abstraction of the body as vessel and as medium is a constant in Svetlana Bailey’s practice. And the bodies depicted in Bailey’s work are made all the more personal as they belong to the artist herself and her family members. The metamorphic, faded, and transmuted body parts were all cast, moulded, or photographed from the bodies of her mother, her father, her partner, her daughter, and her own self. They represent what it means to inhabit the body, in our own consciousness, and what we might be without our bodies. The exhibition is an exploration of bodily existence and questions the relationship between body and environment. From the trace of a body through bathed sunlight, to hardened frost, to melting ice, the works in Without my body flow organically with the natural ecological elements that we as living bodies exist within.
In the ‘Would the sun still rise’ series, we see a blinding saturation of pinks and oranges, as if seen through eyelids while lying in the warm sun, with the shadows of bodies imprinted in the lasting wake of sunlight. These works were created on a van residency supported by the Brooklyn Darkroom through the American desert during the devastating wildfires of 2021 whereby the artist and her loved ones placed their bodies on photosensitive sheets which were slowly exposed to the natural rising of the sun. The remnants of hazy pink and orange hues are a reminder of the intense fires that blazed nearby and coloured the sky like a burning scar.
In a perfect dichotomy, parts of bodies are recreated out of ice in Bailey’s ‘Who wants to live forever’ series. Frozen in time yet forever changing, the ice sculptures slowly melt away. In a moment of pause, they are re-frozen to build barnacle-like frost on their exterior forms and dissolve their humanly features; then frozen again and again. As the water of these bodily parts drips, their unique human features start to fade – the fine wrinkles, visible pores, fingerprint marks, and traces of hair – so that what remains is no longer human. The final materiality captured on film is without body, without humanness. We are left with an alien form, a trace of what was once a body, a being that is now closer to the natural elements than a beating heart.
Curated by Kelly Price
“My practice explores embodiment and its link to our human centric view of the environment. I search for new ways of understanding bodily experience and consider its implications for relations between human and habitat. My work examines the eerie intimacy between the human body, human experience and human surroundings, and through this I engage with thoughts on ecology and speculate on the weirdness of the future.
The sense of being and existing in a body has occupied me since early childhood. I remember trying to feel the difference between myself and my body and wondering why my conscious memories are all located within this body that I have always inhabited. My research is motivated by the relationship I have through my body and the feedback between ecology and experience of the body. I explore the body as the mechanism through which one engages, encounters and is re-formed by the hyper-objects of habitat.
In this work I combine alternative photographic techniques with sculpture making. I produce moulds to substitute forms made of transitional materials like water and ice to create arrangements that I photographically preserve. These materials allow contemplation of body and land and the makeup of a post-human future.” – Svetlana Bailey
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