Through Her Breath - Untitled No. 8
THROUGH HER BREATH
2-25 MARCH 2023
7 JAMES ST, WINDSOR
Through Her Breath celebrates ancestral breath placing women, whose bodies are the source of our first breaths, as the inscriber of embodied legacies of past and present. Inspired by the feminist philosophy of Luce Irigaray, it embraces the idea that women are the thread, custodians and channel for an archive of embodied memories.
This comes at a time of loss of my own mother, to whom I am eternally grateful to for the air she breathed for me.
The sharing of air with choreographer Carol Brown in a deeply layered collaboration reframed a genealogy of breath-inspired movement transmitted through the teachings of expressionist modern dance dancer Gertrude Bodenwieser (b. Vienna 1890 d. Sydney 1959) and the Bess Mensendieck system. Through Her Breath is my awakening to deeper thought and appreciation of woman, memory and community, expressed through the layering of photography, dance and fashion through a feminine lens.
Remembering air involves remembering our debt to the maternal body for it is our mothers’ bodies that breathe first for us, creating the ground for autonomy through our first breaths. A culture that remembers air is one in which exchanges between natural and cultural spheres are revealed as interconnected and mutually dependent (Irigaray, 1999).
During lockdown early 2021 I read Carol Brown’s article Breaths and Beats: Vibrating at the Borders of Memory (Dance Research Aotearoa, 6, 2020). Carol references the threaded genealogy of Breath techniques that come from the Mensendieck-Bodenweiser legacy and are inscribed in her practice. In referencing legacy, Carol writes “History is undeniably something we carry with us, we wear it, and we habitually reproduce it in our gestures, but it also breathes through us… I dance between remembering and forgetting.” It is in this remembering of air, exchanges of both natural and cultural spheres that the layers of embodied legacy remain eternal.
According to Irigaray, there are two levels of breathing, natural breath, which is the corporeal breathing that begins with birth, and cultural breath, which is the spiritual breathing. Irigaray defines breathing as the first autonomous gesture of being, which marks the detachment from the mother and brings us into contact with the environment and others. Air is an element that we can never fully appropriate. We can simply exist within it, use it to sustain our body and spirit, and share it with the others. Breathing unites us with others, at the same time it underlines our individuality; it generates proximity and distancing at the same time.
Irigaray’s radical subjectivity calls for us to become two, to resist appropriating each other and yet to breathe-with. Breath is core to her ethics of sexual difference. As sexuate subjects, men and women have different access to maternal genealogies and the rhythms of nature. We breathe the same air, but we breathe it differently. Only by respecting our differences in an intersubjective and intercultural sense can we acknowledge each other’s humanity. Through self-affection we return to our own body through breath (Skôf, 2017).
Viennese dancer Gertrude Bodenwieser arrived in Melbourne in 1939 escaping Nazism and brought with her her breath-dance knowledge that has transformed the breath rhythms and spatial arcs of dance in Australia. Dancer Shona Dunlop-MacTavish, often photographed by Margaret Michaelis, was a student of Bodenweiser, and a teacher and ‘Dance Mother’ to Carol. Breath-dance knowledges are transmitted through an intergenerational and intercultural transhemispheric legacy of Expressionist dance.
The relationship between breath, body and air as medium was central to the principles of the Bodenwieser Method that Shona taught. As Bodenwieser described it: “breath animates the life of the torso, in which the heart - age-old symbol of love and pain - is embedded” (in Cuckson, 1970).
In celebrating ancestral breath as the inscriber of embodied legacies of past in the present, I am drawn to Carol’s aligning of Luce Irigaray’s philosophy of sexual difference, and the actions and practices underpinning the concept of the body central to the Bodenwieser legacy. Carol writes “Coming to know these movements through sharing breaths during class demonstrations, repetition and variation in Shona’s Moray Place studio informed my choreographic imagination. Future performance research is entangled with the persistent trace of these teachings, contributing to the choreographing of a dance history transmitted through a syncopation of breaths.”
Step together stop,
Step Turn Schlinger
You must keep going
Remember your body is not the same today, as it was yesterday
Be what you are becoming and not what you might have been.
(Shona Dunlop McTavish)
Drawing attention to Shona Dunlop-MacTavish’s dance teachings through the lens of Irigaray thought, Carol proposes that her emphasis on breath-initiated movement that is musically and rhythmically dynamic supports the becoming of a breath-body-atmosphere matrix. This matrix offers contemporary dancers and researchers a corporeal logic for orienting dance as a resistive practice to the norms of the political sphere, resisting the forgetting of air and revitalising relations between past and present, nature and culture.
In photographing this series it was important for me to return to materials going beyond my training to earlier cameras and processes inspired by the breath connection of dance and photography evident in the partnership between Bodenweiser, photographer Margaret Michaelis, and the photographing of Tanzgruppe Bodenwieser in Europe and Bodenwieser Ballet in Australia. In light of this breath connection I felt strongly that this collaboration with Carol offer varied photographic techniques that stretch historically over time from analogue to digital with my choice of cameras and materials, lighting and set exhaling my photographic breath genealogy.The suite of analogue cameras spanned Linhof Technika (c.1950), Polaroid A110 (c.1980) converted to take 5 x 4 film, Fuji GX680 (c.1993) 6 x 8 120 Roll Film, Rolleiflex 6008 (c.1992) 6 x 6 120 Roll Film, some well expired polaroid was also shot on the day. As an apprentice photographer of the 1980’s I was taught traditional analogue methods that paralleled those being used by photographers from the 1950’s, nothing much had changed right through to 2002 until the arrival of digital, which I embraced. For this series I used my Hasselblad H2 with Phase IQ180 (c.2005/2017) and film back.
Analogue photography to me is romantic and beautifully tactile, from camera and film to print. Romance / beauty has always been a large part of my work from the materials I use to the subject, fashion, make up and light aesthetic.
My reason for referencing romanticism in my photography can perhaps be explained through the mother-daughter relation, where values of beauty and the elation of breath were significant. We need beauty - when there is little grounding it is escapism. The photographic treatment of Through Her Breath echo’s dance’s ephemeral agency in arcs of remembering and forgetting. A shot negative may be purely printed as a c-type print, another digitally scanned, retouched then output to negative with a return to print as analogue, a digital file shot digitally staying faithful is printed digitally. My aim with this is to create a united suite of images that poetically breathe in and out of past, present and future, working in synergy with Carol’s choreography, the costume and make up.
Universally, dance is a social tool for change, we dance for self expression and communication, unity. My desire to photograph women united in Expressionist Dance, historically known as ‘Ausdruckstanz,’ provided an aesthetic which at first glance would be visually beautiful, sensitive, joyous, euphoric, strong, and romantic. These bursts of women 'dancing between remembering forgetting’ unify cross culturally as individuals, united by breath and the air they share. In enrolling dancers for this series, students of Victorian College of the Arts were selected because of their interest in the projects meaning and aesthetic. In looking to the future of contemporary photography, dance, fashion, feminism/gender the inclusion of an interested non binary dancer in what has historically been a female role was exciting and right. The opportunity for inclusion opened a new space for the dancer to self-express and for the choreography to historically expand. The costume designed by Susan Dimasi draws inspiration from the Ballet Russe - drawing on her own lexicon of breath archives - and enabled visual cohesion and reason.
…’If I am going to add anything to the dialogue it is that from a crossover with contemporary fashion current state of affairs, when an awareness of how seriously "we" have short changed ourselves as women - is unfolding in the global catastrophe known as fast fashion's impact on the environment - making work that re- blurs the line between costume and fashion to reconnect the viewer (women) with the sublime in dress as an inherent birthright and deeper connection to matriarchal force has never be so needed. Making these images outside of the current fashion photography context which at a base level technology enables cruel efficiency; and at a "haute" is sophisticated in it's "draw" on the "shiny" parts of historical fashion/cinema/dance image and confounding in it's lack of cultural, social political contribution - beyond selling a perfume, handbag or watch...The production of the work you propose to make is in "it's zeitgeist".
- Susan Dimasi
In realising the direction of the make up, Julia Green said ‘love the idea that each dancer having an individual design. Some minimal and others more advanced to show the generational knowledge passed down through women. The idea is that there is 3 different ‘breaths’ represented by the amount of silver leaf used on the face’. This direction was realised also by hair designer Bernadette Fisers and a team of eight assistants over two days at Sun Studios Melbourne June 2022.
A wider suite of the series provides a circadian rhythm of light, the choreography starts heavily archival, full of memory, stages of breath moonlit images capture each phase of inspiration and the light moves, brightens and expiration brings with it different possibilities of growing or blooming in layers to ’self’. The selected images for exhibition at MARS March 2023 inhale and exhale through choreography and medium, time and breath, space community, they keep the focus on the more primordial breath of our corporeal archive through the nurturing maternal body. It aims to be deeply calming and centring and in these times of deep change and turbulence.
In searching for a practical philosophy through dance’s relationship to the movement of breath and the medium of air, I am drawn to the temporal ghosting of one body by another. Reanimating breath patterns learnt in Shona’s studio; I am reminded of how history courses through us.
- Carol Brown
In collaboration with Carol Brown
Carol Brown - Choreography
Susan Dimasi - Costume
Julia Green - Make Up Director
Bernadette Fisers - Hair Direction & Make Up
Shot at: Sun Studios
With Gratitude to the VCA and Dancers:
Julie Anne Minnai
Sami Jane Smith
Printing: Sandy Prints