How do you attempt to define as broad a theme as “Body Image”? The answer turns out to be not so much defining it but combining ideas between the collaborative minds of 8 people, each with their own unique interpretations and ready to bring refreshing perspectives to light... within just 10 weeks!
As complete strangers (headed by our Story LAB leaders, Hannah Graham and Rachael Minott of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) we jumped in at the “brain dump” stage: the safe zone for all prospective ideas and subjects of discussion. The boundaries were soon to be redefined in both the minor and the extreme with a show vs tell introduction to storytelling by Fran, outlining a fluidity and ease in conveying more intense and visually challenging themes. There began the foundations on which to recreate a similar impact with our own stories, evolving from the literal writings (pinned) on the wall into how we could crack the shell of what we really wanted to present within the exhibition. Themes raging from colourism to the regeneration of cells, the interconnecting effects of the body and mind to ageing, gender roles and disability, became our platform as to how far we could go to engage with each other’s expression of Body Image and still leave it open to the wider interpretation of others.
My own contribution to the mix revolves around the concept of how as individuals we are fundamentally unable to identify our own self - at least not in the way anyone around us can - and how our sense of self can be hindered or blocked by it’s own definition, as we can never truly glean an accurate perspective on even so much as our own reflection. Artists amidst designers and craftsmen alike both challenged and inspired us during the creative process, leading to group comparisons of individuals who we admire or who we could attribute to the key aspects of our main theme. Those brought to our attention, from Donald Rodney to Helen Chadwick (and even Barbie!) narrowed the possibilities down to a still mind-bending number of “potentials” we could choose for the final selection.
Our first encounter with some of the actual pieces from the museum collection highlighted just how close we were to finalising the big master plan that could encompass everybody’s concept equally and respectfully, while keeping that wider-ranging audience in mind. Our main objectives were honed down as our group bonded over debate and multiple presentations, being artistically and intellectually fed as much as with copious amounts of food - thanks to Hannah and Rachael, our weekly Edesias and sounding boards throughout. The constant flow of information provided across tables, walls, boards and screens helped build more of an understanding on how to create an accessible and meaningful representation of our work together, each week seeing a new variety of subjects dissected, worked and reworked within the group.
The end result, culminating in a mountain of written and extremely visual material - from our individual and group activities based around identity and the how/why/if it makes us who we are - could easily fill a separate gallery of it’s own (and it would look kind of incredible too!) While we have each maintained our own voice and ideas around the theme of Body Image, somehow as a group we met at the heart of what we were all trying to express from the very beginning. It was never just a question of simply getting our personal views, opinions or points across, but understanding and building on one another’s concepts from the ground up: reading between the lines and drawing some new ones so that others may do the same, to define or redefine their experience of Body Image and the Self in the gallery.
To summarise this collaboration as it comes to a close and to everyone involved (from those designing the gallery and title, to Lea filming all the finer details of our progression, to Hannah and Rachael, Aksana, Anna, Chris, Ellie, Ian, Niamh and Rikard) has been a long road on far too short a journey. Here’s to Within and Without: Body Image and the Self , Story LAB 2018.