Wednesday 11 November 2015

Review by Karol Valderrama of the "Reading the Body" event by Lydia Towsey and Scott Brigwood at Attenborough Arts Centre

Everybody’s Reading Festival 2015
26th September – 4th October

Reading the Body:
Attenborough Arts Centre

When I first considered joining this event, I felt attracted by its main topic and the dynamism the programme offered.  However, I must confess I was concerned when I decided to attend, and also when I realised drawing was going to be an alternative but demanding way to interpret and read a female body.

My concern increased when I arrived, as I found out that this was a class with people who have had experience in drawing, even though I could define myself as skilled to do basic traces.  Fortunately, both Lydia Towsey and Scott Brigwood (leading artists of the event) made of the experience something welcoming, simple and significant, even before starting the workshop.  After going into the room, I was invited to grab a drawing board (the first one in my life), some graphite sticks, charcoal, chalk pastels and markers, and so explore a whole new world through white sheets of paper.

Based on Scott’s words, this was an experience of mark-making which aimed to discover the meaning of our drawings and going beyond conventional techniques.  People who attended this event had the opportunity to create a unique signature no matter the background each one of us had.  Several suggestions were given, beginning with the most valuable, I would say: obliterating preconceptions to guarantee the best “babies” ever (which was the name given to our artistic creations by Lydia).
With materials at hand, general recommendations and a naked model in front of us, the main task was simple: look at the model and draw.  It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But again, this experience was not just about conventional drawing; not just because it was NOT focused on developing a common or traditional drawing style, but also because it was NOT just about images: It was about an interesting mixture of words and images at the same time. 

Later on, instructions were given clearly and we were all ready to start.  Nevertheless, every new sheet that was taken on the board was becoming progressively more challenging, aiming to change styles, to break paradigms and to contribute from a new individual perspective.  A white sheet was not just a white sheet; it was an experience that led to feelings of freedom or chaotic emotions at the moment of completing every new drawing.  Again, this was not just drawing, as words were coming up, supplementing graphical expression; they were saying something together, so words were images, and images were sentences.

With regards to the model, her natural shape contrasted with some exaggerated poses she gave us at every stage.  What did they really aim to?  Certainly, the physical and aesthetic analysis of her, moved towards a more subjective and original reading of her movement or inactivity; a reading resulting of what she performed, combining our beliefs, multiple contexts and the way we used the given tools.  For instance, the graphite stick enhanced our drawings and it was there as the magic tool to discover what the woman in front really meant… not necessarily nudity… but multiple features or traits within our realities.  This finally became a process of extreme consciousness regarding the female representation and our unconscious ways of examining female bodies.
As it was mentioned in the information given prior to the event, it was indeed a different way to read, write and draw the female body.  Expected or not, these creations ended up being an additional way to understand ourselves via original images, as a consequence of the willingness everyone had to move further on within the experience.  Indeed, no experience was necessary; the key was to strongly believe what both artists mentioned at the beginning: Starting without preconceptions and allowing the mark-making experience to consequently see transformations at the moment of reading.

Now that the workshop is over, several questions come to my mind.  First, how did we, participants, finally understand the body we read during those hours?  How did we depict it?  Did our backgrounds and beliefs contribute to have a different or similar reading among us?  After this, I also thought and asked myself what “reading the body” means today, based on the experience.  Multiple answers could appear, for sure, and much more when visual memories swim through social networks in the current days. 

“Choose the events that might make a difference,” the festival Coordinator, Juliet Martin, stated in the foreword of the brochure.  Clearly, I did not hesitate in following her invitation and focused my attention on this particular one, identifying this as an opportunity to make a multifaceted reading, writing and representation of the female body in one same moment.  Evidently, this experience allowed us to be all readers and mark-makers with no exclusion of gender or creed, to consequently analyse this type of art freely.  We were not more than ten participants, just a few indeed, but enough people to replicate this alternative way of reading humanity in modern times. 

About the reviewer
Karol Valderrama is an English/Spanish teacher from Colombia who lives in Leicester.  She has worked in an interdisciplinary level, completing an MA in Film and Film Cultures.  Additionally, Karol is a PhD Candidate in Modern Languages at the University of Leicester focusing on Latin American cinema and gender studies.

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