Inescapably female: reclaiming the non-binary body with Bean

The Demented Goddess (DG): Bean, you’ve talked about your performance art, AV creations and poetry “as being a reclamation and refusal of the body”.   You see yourself as ‘mother & father’ to Kahlo, your 5 year old.   Which aspects of parenting have most affected how you see your body?

I found being pregnant an incredibly liberating experience as I felt for the first time that my body lost its desire, or rather its desirability. Everything became functional instead of sexual, my boobs were everywhere and nobody cared as they constantly leaked milk or were being suckled by my baby. It wasn’t until this moment in time that I fully realised how accustomed to objectifying gazes I had been my entire life. I felt so free to not have those looks upon me. That invisibility is something very difficult to return from.

From ‘Bean A Body’, photo by Manuel Vason.

In parallel to this it was also a painfully awkward period. I felt an incredible discomfort with my flesh. It had grown & become something that I didn’t see myself as. It was inescapable, inescapably female. This relationship with my body and my gender is something I feel I still don’t have the words to articulate fully, but in this period of multiple transitions (before, pregnancy, after birth, after) I have shed and gained a lot. Balancing on this axis of reclamation & refusal is really difficult sometimes.

(m)other / the untitled (II): Venice International Performance Art Week, 2014: “I felt uncomfortable..inescapably female”.

For clarity, Kahlo does have a very active father, whom I also think is a great mother. When I said I see myself as a mother & father, this was a reflection on my personal relationship with my body & my labour and an attempt to get beyond such rigid binary language. I’m acutely aware that since having Kahlo my work is often contextualized through my ‘motherhood’, but her co-parents are never asked the same questions, despite also going through huge personal transitions in their life & practice.

DG: Your new work-in-progress, ‘Kawasaki Plant’, debuted recently at Submerge Festival, references the first robot to kill a human trying to repair it. You’ve talked about using AI in ‘Kawasaki Plant’ to “become bigger than my body” and have previously shown Super 8 films through your vagina. You are working on another piece that involves running and falling for an extended period of time. How has giving birth and sustaining a life affected your ongoing view of the frailty and malleability of the human body?

The piece at Submerge uses AI intelligence to use the body to control audio & visual output. The machine is reading body movements, heart rate & pressure and using these to change sound & activate visuals. I’m still working on the live stream & video mapping elements of the work, so for Submerge we were mainly dependent on sound to become bigger or unfold.

Physiologically, the systems in which I have had to parent within have basically destroyed me. Although there have been periods of time where I’ve felt almost indestructible, high on my own hormones, strong & fearless; but, six years into parenting, I realize I have been functioning in crisis mode for many years.

“I have been functioning in crisis mode for many years…I feel fragile.”

My body feels quite empty now. The rage of the early years of parenting have left, that sudden clarity of the systems of oppression, the sorrow & angst that came with it – and out through my work – have gone.

I’m left feeling frustrated.  For all those early years of battling, little progress has been made, little has shifted in society. I guess I always believed in the personal as political and that our small actions do make change. Right now I feel tired, I feel fragile. For all the searching of new ways of being, of existing together, I’m not sure I’ve found an answer that can hold me when I fall.

DG: In what ways does parenting confine or stimulate your practice as an artist?

My work has become more minimal & structured. There is no space, time or energy for chaos. I have begun collaborating & delegating as a means for achieving what I want in my work and also as a strategy against the isolation parenting can bring, particularly when existing in queer space.

I’m currently very disillusioned with ‘the art world’, I don’t see a way forward or place for me to survive within it. As a performance artist, whose body & mind needs to be present for the work to exist, there are simply not adequate systems of support to achieve this is a sustainable way.

DG: Do you ever consider what your child will make of your art, when you are making it?

Not really! There was a period when Kahlo was a baby I would never have her present during my work because I would go through such a deep transformation, travel so far inside, it was too emotional for her. I was very conscious of our symbiotic connection and now we are beginning detachment I feel a new freedom in my work. I hope she finds strength in my work and that in some way it is a shared act of empowerment.

Feeling Beany?  Want to share our feelings of fragility and empowerment?  Club together and buy a ‘motherfucker’ bomber jacket, printed to order:  https://www.beaninthearchive.com/motherfucker

For more of Bean, see www.beaninthearchive.com. Bean is a director of Performance Space, Twitter @aplaceofaction.

a body from bean on Vimeo.

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