If you stepped into the performance space of Courtney Lau ’17 and Nishat Hossain ’18 last week, you should have expected to be more than spectators to a show. Utilizing rope, twine, burlap nets, paper, and other materials, the artists wrapped up each other, their audience members, and objects around them in “Girl Becoming Sculpture,” which explored the creation of sculpture through a series of performances.
On each of the series’ eight days, Lau and Hossain completed a “performative task,” in which bodies and surroundings were connected and intertwined with physical materials. After each task, the “carcass” of materials were removed and installed as sculptural creations suspended from ceilings and walls. Funded through the John B. Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities, “Girl Becoming Sculpture” combined the differing backgrounds and skillsets of the two artists to explore what happens when performance and sculpture collide.
“We’re really interested in how these wrapped ‘things’—these wrapped objects—can almost become bodies,” said Lau, who is majoring in art history at Bryn Mawr. “So much can happen when you mistake a sculpture for a person.” Lau, who has been working in collaboration with Hossain for months, has decided to use “Girl Becoming Sculpture” as a final project for her class “Bring Your Own Body: Transgender between Archives and Aesthetics,” which is taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Jeanne Vaccaro, curator the current exhibition in Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery by the same name.
The inspiration for the project was originally conceived by Hossain, an independent visual studies major who developed the conceptual framework for the project over the course of several months. Last semester in Visual Media Scholar John Muse’s “Film on Photography” class she made a film that prompted her to think about how materials and instructions can be used to mediate touch. Her mind immediately conjured images of being ensnared in webs of thread and masses of rope with other bodies. Then, while working as a research assistant for Muse over the summer, she was able to give structure to this vision. While doing research for him she was exposed to artworks that combined sculpture and performance, and decided she wanted to use rope and thread to initiate a series of participant-driven performances and to then display the used rope as an archive of performing remains.
“I’ve been studying about film and its overlap with performance, but I think this is the first time I’m studying performance and its overlap with sculpture,” said Hossain, who has done extensive work with film in Muse’s classes, taking home awards from the Tri-Co film festival in two different years and showing her films at festivals from San Francisco (the Crossroads Festival) to Sienna, Italy (Visionaria).
Hossain brought her idea to Lau earlier this semester, as Lau, with her background in performance studies and art history, made a perfect collaborator for such a project. The pair received advice and support from Muse and Vaccaro, as well as from Associate Professor of Fine Arts Mark Baenziger, who is currently teaching Hossain’s “Sculpture: Materials and Techniques” class. Just as Lau is applying the project to her classwork with Vacaro, Hossain is using the work as her final project in Baenziger’s course.
Though the performances have concluded, the two student artists hope to work in the coming months to prepare for proposals to share their product in local art spaces in Philadelphia. Though there is still much to do to configure the project as an exhibition, they now have the documentation and experience to move forward.
“What I like most about this piece is how you’re forced to interact with people in ways you normally wouldn’t, to be close to people in ways you otherwise couldn’t be,” said Hossain. “This is something I would like to keep exploring in future works: how to use instructions, materials, and the camera to explore intimacy in all its strange and surprising forms.”
-Michael Weber ’19
Photos by Rae Yuan ’19.