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a video installation by Sinead Kempley

Critical Rationale Unusual parts of the body1 along with various textures create a visually appealing image, which rapidly transforms into frustrating situations. We feel the pain of the protagonist, our bodies start itching and a relationship starts developing with the anonymous character we see on the screen. The pleasure of the sensory experience is indulged. However, a tension builds through repetition and endurance and a growing discomfort develops.  The videos not only explore the relationship between the viewer and the protagonist but also the relationship between human beings and nature; components from the earth are used, whether it be sand, ice, mud. These videos can represent the undoing battle between man and nature; our desire to tame it, and the failure within doing so. We enter the installation and are confronted by screens and projections of different heights, angles and sizes, some of which can be seen together and some of which require the viewer to turn their back on one to view the other. It would be impossible for the viewer to watch all four videos in their entirety at the same time. Instead of being given the opportunity to sit back and be entertained, they are encouraged to rotate around the small space, switching to another video when they become too frustrated with one. 2 The body in proximity, the close-up, may well suggest the entitlement of the viewer, as Peggy Phelan has suggested, but when abstracted in extreme close-up it becomes indecipherable and is more likely to establish ownership by the women who examines herself rather than the rights of her male viewers. Video Art, A Guided Tour - Catherine Elwes 2 The real difference is perhaps between cinema and the multiple, wraparound video images that make it impossible to grasp the work as a whole. A movie at the theatre is apprehended as a temporal, flat object, commonly experienced at one sitting, from beginning to end. In a multi-screen installation, as in life, one is always left with the feeling that something more interesting is happening behind or just around the corner, on another screen. The predicament of choice fatigue is a contemporary phenomenon and leads to mild distress and a permanent sense of unfulfilled desire that is exploited by consumer culture. Video Art, A Guided Tour - Catherine Elwes 1

Despite the multiple screens there are only two sounds in the space, an overall sound coming from speakers, and for Inaudible, invisible heat the viewer uses headphones. The overall sound is from Umbilicus, the smallest lowest screen. The sound does more than illustrate the task, we hear the protagonist’s deep breathing as the belly moves up and down, becoming faster as the task becomes more frustrating. In Inaudible, invisible heat, in reality watching ice melt would be silent however we hear the cracking of the ice as if we were inside it. This sounds so bodily that we cannot be sure if the sound is coming from the material or within the protagonist or ourselves. Inaudible, invisible heat The frustration of watching the ice melt at an unbearably slow pace. The heat of the beating body which holds it, with every pulse threatening to dislodge it. The building irritation as we wait for the tear to drop. As it forms to it’s fullest capacity it suddenly falls, we have a moment of satisfaction, only to lose it seconds later when the whole process begins again. We know exactly what will happen; a build up of tension followed by a split second of relief. Yet we endure the whole cycle again for that tiny taste of satisfaction.

In every way, material or bare repetition, so-called repetition of the same, is like a skin which unravels, the external husk of a kernel of difference and more complicated internal repetitions. Difference lies between two repetitions.3 The duration of the video (12:34 mins) works to test the viewer’s endurance4 and if they somehow reach the end, they find the ice does not completely disappear. They are brought back to where they started, exhausted and unsatisfied, forced to continue in a never-ending cycle. Much like the endurance5 of the performer’s body6, who endures the piercing cold temperature of the ice until their skin turns red. My initial drive was the tactile interaction between natural materials and the body. However, this video has become an analogy for a build up of sexual tension, a climax, an addictive or compulsive habit or how pain can lead to pleasure, or pleasure to pain. The Opponent Process is a psychological theory which ‘explains the paradox of why so often our pleasures turn into problematic addictions and, conversely, why our stressful experiences frequently lead to sustained good feelings and even happiness.’7 Difference and Repetition - Giles Deluze The notion of ‘cinema as endurance’ will be unpacked, in contrast to other  models of understanding film – ‘cinema as entertainment’, ‘cinema as informative’,  and so on [...]  concepts and metaphors from the realm of sport and  exercise may be useful for framing the phenomenological interactions  between viewing bodies and endurance cinema, despite the spectator  remaining  virtually  static  in  his/her  seat.  Clearly,  films  with  exceptional  running times [...] demand a particular level of stamina from their spectators  (especially  if  the  films  run  without intermissions).  [...]  In  what  ways  can  endurance be framed as a valuable viewing practice? Can it be understood  as a form of training or workout for audiences? Is it always necessarily  masochistic? What does it mean for an audience to be ‘exhausted’ by a film? - Waiting, Suffering: Cinema and Endurance - Glyn Davis 3


I get an extreme rush from pushing my body and mind to their limits through rock climbing. I am forced to concentrate completely on my body and actions or I could be in danger. The adrenaline is pumping; my fingertips are bleeding but I don’t feel the pain. The Opponent Process explains this rush and adrenaline addiction. The initial intense emotion felt from these activities is fear, but the secondary response is a lasting relief or happiness. I push my body harder and harder to get a bigger and bigger rush until perhaps I fall. This duality of pain and pleasure, fear and relief, fragility and strength runs throughout the work. Ear & Umbilicus - to be seen together The hand begins with a gentle touch, indulging and enjoying the texture of sand on the ear. Progressively the action becomes faster as a growing irritation is felt. Even after the sand is visibly removed the protagonist can still feel the sensation of it on their skin. The roughness of the grains starts to peel away the skin. We see the body’s fragility. The hand is feminine however the hair of the head could be masculine. Is this action self-inflicted or one hand upon another’s ear?

Body-based performances were influenced by the emergence of feminist theory and critique in the 1960s and ‘70s which re-evaluated traditional representations of the female body. Artists used their bodies to challenge restrictive definitions of sexuality, actively exhibiting their own naked bodies to undermine conventional notions of female nudity. Similarly, artists used their bodies to test the limits of the performing body, pursuing themes of endurance, self-control, transformation, risk and pain. - Amanda Coogan 6 Body art is generally concerned with issues of gender and personal identity. A major theme is the relationship of body and mind, explored in work consisting of feats of physical endurance designed to test the limits of the body and the ability of the mind to suffer pain. - Amelia Jones 7 The opponent-process theory of acquired motivation: the costs of pleasure and the benefits of pain. - Solomon RL. 5

A surface moves up and down in a disconcerting rhythm, its texture appears to be the earth’s surface, a sandy floor but it’s movements suggest a living breathing creature. As in Ear the same hand appears to rub away the material and reveal the human flesh beneath. A texture that at first is enjoyable becomes frustrating as the sand seems impossible to remove from navel. The ear is a symbol of female genitalia8 and the navel, a place of heightened sensitivity. The work returns to sexual pleasure, frustration and a sensitive touch on the orifices of the body. The videos, however, go beyond this interpretation as they explore a wider spectrum of tactile pleasure and mankind’s symbiosis with natural materials. Mud between my toes What a pleasurable tactile indulgence, to sink your feet into the mud and feel it between your toes. They try to sink, one by one, into the clay beneath them. Frustratingly slow, and impossible to control. The material beneath the projection mimics that of the surface within the video, as a viewer we wish to control the toes, to push them into the clay we can almost touch. With all these videos the viewer is teased, watching the protagonist indulge in the pleasure of interacting with the materials while not being allowed to feel the tactile sensation themselves.

(8) The genitals may even be represented in dreams by other parts of the body: the male member by the hand or the foot, the female genital orifice by the mouth, the ear, or even the eye. The secretions of the human bodymucus, tears, urine, semen, etc.- may be used in dreams interchangeably. - The Interpretation of Dreams - Sigmund Freud

List of Illustrations (1) Bear Steve McQueen (1993) [Film still] 9:02 min. 16 mm, shown as video, projection, black and white (2) Boxing who Darragh O’Callaghan (2007) [Video still] 2:30 min, loop. (3) Pryings Vito Acconci (1971) [Video still] 17:10 min, b&w, sound (4) Hand and Foot Douglas Gordon (1995) [Video still] 32:08 min, loop. (5) Broken Fall (Organic) Bas Jan Ader [Photograph] 1971, Silver gelatin print (6) In Search of the Miraculous Bas Jan Ader (1975) [Photograph] documentation (7) Dust Breeding Nigel Rolfe (2008) [Video still] 5 min (8) Into the Mire Nigel Rolfe (2011) (9) The Opponent Process: Umbilicus Sinead Kempley (2014) [Video Still] 5:49 min (10) Cafe Muller & Kontakthof Pina Bausch (1978) [Performance documentation] (11) Passeggiata Julie Brook (2011) [Video stills] 3:30 min (12) SNAP: Oil/Air/Water Leslie Thornton (2013) [Video still] 2 min (13) Candy Neil Armfield (2006) [Film still] 108 min (14) Glue Pour Robert Smithson (1969) [Photograph] (15) The Opponent Process: Inaudible, invisible heat Sinead Kempley (2014) [Video still] 12:34 min, loop. (16) Districted: Death Valley Sam Taylor-Wood (2006) [Film still] 7:58 min. 35mm (17) Machine with Oil Arthur Ganson (1990) [Video still] (18) Machine with Grease Arthur Ganson (1992) [Video still] (19) Short story piece Sarah Dobai (2005) [Film Still] 10 sec. 35mm. (20) Eye in a Conch Shell Pipilotti Rist [Installation Photograph] (21) The Opponent Process: Ear Sinead Kempley (2014) [Video still] 5:08 min

(22) Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Chantal Akerman (1975) [Film still] 201 min (23) The First Noble Truth Arthur Ganson [Video still] (24) Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing) Mexico City Francis Alÿs (1997) [Video still] 4:59 min. (25) Be The First To See What You See As You See It Runa Islam (2004) [Film] 7:30 min. 16mm. (26) Blue Classic Tony Oursler (2009) [Installation Photograph] Video Projection on Fiberglass (27) Corps étranger Mona Hatoum (1994) [Installation Photograph] Video installation with cylindrical wooden structure, video projector, video player, amplifier and four speakers. (28) The Opponent Process: Mud between my toes Sinead Kempley (2014) [Video still] (29) From hand to mouth Bruce Nauman (1967) [Photograph] (30) Volatile Cildo Meireles (1980–94) [Installation Photograph] Wood, ash, candle, and essence. (31) Deeper Laure Prouvost (2010) [Installation Photograph] (32) The Matter of Memory Phoebe Boswell (2014) [Installation Photographs]

The echoing ocean, once dethroned by vibrating air, has now been displaced by brute blood, something of a solipsistic surrogate for the salty sea. But what the ocean wave and blood pulse explanations have in common is the idea that human experience reaches into depths we cannot fathom—that what we feel in the moment arrives from far away or inside, from zones that evade direct apprehension. - George Pendle


The body becomes a place of action through which identity is forged. Whilst sexual, it is not erotic: instead, actions on the body begin a discourse on resilience and overcoming. The video works of immersion and submersion, emotional disintegration, and the durational performances of weight upon the body, at once define strength and fragility, adaptability, stoicism, vulnerability and destruction. - Darragh O’Callaghan (2)


Light sometimes dances off the reflective sweat on their skin, sometimes throws them into shadow and sometimes momentarily blinds the viewer when its full glare is uninterrupted. At certain moments, close-up shots from underneath the men’s two interlocked bodies tend towards abstraction with swinging genitalia the only markers for orientation amid a confusion of limbs. - Sophie Howarth


Vito Acconci’s Pryings describes a resistance to intimacy. Trying to pry open the eyes of fellow performer Kathy Dillon, Acconci engages the body as a bearer of reluctant desire. - Steve Seid


Acute or sharp pain, I believe, like a high note in music, produced by rapid vibrations, while a dull, heavy, or aching pain resembles a low note or tone, and is caused by comparatively slow vibrations. A slow rate of mechanical vibration will therfore interrupt the rapid nerve-vibration of acute pain, while quick mechanical vibration more readily arrests the slower. - Joseph Mortimer Granville




He employs video not only as a tool of documentation but also to investigate and test his own physical and psychological limits, using his body as a site for challenging his limitations. There are aspects of the performance here that might be termed macho, in an archaic kind of way – the artist’s body the site of assault, the impact to create empathy and at the same time estrangement.




Sensations result from the actions of an external stimulus on the sensitive apparatus of our nerves. Sensations differ in kind, partly with the organ of sense excited, and partly with the nature of the stimulus employed. Each organ of sense produces peculiar sensations, which cannot be excited by means of any other; the eye gives sensations of light, the ear sensations of sound, the skin sensations of touch. Even when the same sunbeams which excite in the eye sensations of light, impinge on the skins and excite its nerves, they are felt only as heat, not as light. In the same way the vibration of elastic bodies heard by the ear, can also be felt by the skin, but in that case produce only a whirring fluttering sensation, not sound. - Sensations of Tone - Hermann Helmholtz








Almost without exception, viewers crossed their arms across their chests in erotic alarm while watching this perpetually ejaculating shock-absorber of piece, coating and recoating itself rhythmically with a deep layer of lustrous machine oil. More shameless re-enactment of self stimulation hasn’t been captured in the raunchiest porn videos. - Lizzie Zucker Saltz


Death Valley , by Sam Taylor-Wood, consists of a man who travels to the desertical, scorching Death Valley and masturbates for several minutes. At the end, the man is clearly exhausted - so is the spectator. - DESTRICTED


Did you know that machines share all of the sensual passions and desires of humans? This one has the capacity to bathe itself in luscious, viscous 70 weight motor oil. For a machine, could there be anything more satisfying? - Arthur Ganson

Twisted limbs, looks that linger too long, intense self-scrutiny, tenderness tinged with suspicion, dark moods with redemptive possibilities, uncertainty of absence or presence, all disconcert the narrative and pleasure of looking. So while we see women seated around the kitchen table, with lank hair, eating colourless food, against green walls with bored lines of resignation and routine etched on their faces, we then see in a separate image, one lift her skirt and hold an ice cube to her naked leg. Under the table, eroticism, relief or pain break the monotony. - Esther Windsor




Bloom through the bardoor saw a shell held at their ears. He heard more faintly that that they heard, each for herself alone, then each for other, hearing the plash of waves, loudly, a silent roar. Bronze by a weary gold, anear, afar, they listened. Her ear too is a shell, the peeping lobe there. .... The sea they think they hear. Singing. A roar. The blood it is.

- Ulysses by James Joyce

“You follow the feeling of the piece,” Ganson explained, “and then wrestle it into physicality.”



Sometimes making something leads to nothing - Francis Al每s



Time seems to expand in an unexpected way, through subtle technical interventions whose precision introduces an atmosphere of contemplation sometimes verging on a state of hallucination. - Mark Lanct么t




Between the mind of man and the outer world are interposed the nerves of the human body, which translate, or enable the mind to translate, the impressions of that world into facts of consciousness and thought. - John Tyndall





Bibliography Coogan, A. (2014). > Performance Art > Introduction. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Deleuze, G. and Patton, P. (2001). Difference and repetition. 1st ed. London: Continuum. Davis, G. (2013). FAST/SLOW Intensifications of Cinematic Speed: Waiting, Suffering: Cinema and Endurance [online] Angelia Ruskin. Available at: home/faculties/alss/deps/english_media/research/research_activities/fastslow_conference.Maincontent.0007.file.tmp/fastslow_ programme_with_abstracts.pdf [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Elwes, C. (2005). Video Art, a guided tour. 1st ed. [Place of publication not identified]: I.B. Tauris. Freud, S. and Crick, J. (1999). The interpretation of dreams. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Helmholtz, H. and Ellis, A. (1954) On the sensations of tone as a physiological basis for the theory of music. 1st ed. New York: Dover Publications. Helmreich, S. (2012) Seashell Sound [online] Available at: http:// [Accessed 8 May. 2014]. Irvine, K. (2004). Camera/Action: Performance and Photography | Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Mocp. org. Available at: cameraaction-performance-and-photography.php [Accessed 10 May. 2014].

Jones, A. (2014). Body art | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Lanctôt, M. (2010) Runa Islam | Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. [online] Available at: en/expositions/runa-islam-2/ [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Rolfe, N. (2014). Green on Red Gallery | Dust Breeding. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Solomon, R. (1980) The opponent-process theory of acquired motivation: the costs of pleasure and the benefits of pain. American Psychologist, 35(8), p.691., (2014). DESTRICTED Films, Art and provocation. [online] Available at: htm [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Trower, S. (2012) Senses of vibration. 1st ed. New York: Continuum. Windsor, E. (2014) Short Story Piece Sarah Dobai. [online] Available at: million_show_pages/million_dobai.html [Accessed 10 May. 2014]. Zucker Saltz, L. (1998). Arthur Ganson: Machines. Art Papers, [online] p.51. Available at: Saltz%20review.html [Accessed 10 May. 2014].

Sinead Kempley edited research book  
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