The Body and Bodies (14 pages)

Where once we might have just said, 'It's figurative and representational' now we say, 'Ah, the body.' And we struggle to subvert normalising discourses and use the body as a site of opposition to fragment the male gaze and disrupt the flanneur who walks inside us, corrupted by prurience and bad faith.


But at the same time we maybe forget our own bodies, dragging them behind our discursive practices and reflexive strategies like a forgotten sack.  Or we obsess about them, buffing and polishing, grooming and spinning, honing and puffing ourselves to prefection despite our oppositional practices.  And we get lost in our conceptual spatiality, and baffled by our late-modern temporality, and disgusted and fearful of our dreadful corporeality - the sack ageing and oozing, disowned and dearly loved as it threatens to head west. Its drivers running down. Cell reproduction slowing. That one constant - the thrum of sexual desire, the hunger of the ego - fading, stuttering and sputtering, propped up and rennovated with pills and tantra.

Hollow Torso (2008) (Chalk Conte Ink Gouache) (84x60) Fergus Murray
Hollow Torso (2008) (Chalk, Conte, Ink, Gouache) (84x60)

I found solace in the figure, the trope no less, of the Archaic Greek Kouros. The young guardian spirit, the fixed form of the reticent man, benign and measured in its simplified, schematic body, guarding graves and loved ones gone.


Easy to be fooled by its simple forms, naked as the day as, innocent of the bombastic Classical heroes yet to come. Contstrained by technique and tools the craftsmen followed tried and trusted ways flowing in from the East, (Assyria) and up from the South (Dynastic Egypt) as Greece took on the Kingdom of Persia, accumulating knowledge and force, flowering.


And then trying to copy that simplicity in drawings whilst finding the core of the thing, the stubborn solidity, the alarming sexuality, the tension between the two and fixing it in flat dimensions and tricks of the eye, the old chiaroscuro.


Taking the contemporary body and making it walk to the drum of the Archaic past, all distorted and hilarious. Juxtaposing the poised woman, the eroticised ideal and Max Beckmann's brilliant ambiguous scenes and tableau, the crash of a very different war echoing, Gestapo basements suggesting a terrifying discourse of the body martyred and reduced to endless agony.


Troubling over myself, trying to gain a fix on what it is to be me. Here, now. The boy in the past who grew up, caught between the young/brash and old/battered worlds. God's own country and Britain's post-imperial ennui.


'Ah, the body', you might rightly say. Good old bodies, knowing more than our discursive strategies will ever know.

There is a phrase, "To know something in your bones.' You can be told it, you can think you understand it, but sometimes it is not until you have really felt it, in some inner core, that you know it, that you 'feel it in your bones'.   When discovered it is usually a pretty important form of the 'truth' about things.


That is not to say that it is naked or native intuition, a simple gut feeling.  That suggests something too immediate, one-dimensional and visceral, that is unable to hold contradiction, tension and nuance.


I'd like to think the sculptures of the body that I make contain something of that sense of depth and knowingness but that may be my head talking, as they say.

For photographs and notes on the Kouros in Archaic Greece see this page in my Art Writing.


Next: Kouros Drawings