Rietveld talk - on aknowledging the body, the perception of energy and individual potency

On Monday the 19th May a talk was held at Rietveld Academie’s Jewellery department to introduce the Françoise van den Bosch Foundation’s Artist in Residency programme. The talk was the occasion to present my current work in the residency as well as giving an overview of  my previous projects.

Martin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia, 1507

The first image I wanted to show is a map drawn by the german cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. This is the first world map to use the name ‘America’ for the newly discovered continent, and I find it extremely interesting as it illustrates an empirical approach to mapping, so to say. A method based on the direct experience of geographical discoveries rather than technology-based information. I consider this picture a good introduction to my project as in my time here in Amsterdam I hope to develop a similar approach to the land of the body.

Margherita Potenza, Resti, 2012

The body has always been an important focus in my practice. When I first started my Art degree in Milan, the questions I asked myself concerned the intrinsic value of art. As artists, how do we assign value to the things we make? By conceiving and creating art we put ourselves into what we make, we transfer part of what we are into it, and by doing so we create value. This kind of reflections drove me from fine art to jewellery.

Anthony Gormley, Mean, 2016

I started thinking of the body as a territory to measure and map during the life-drawing classes I took in my Bachelor. In those classes I learnt to look at the body in its structure, understanding how its different parts correspond proportionally to the whole figure. This way the human shape can be divided by a set number of heads, the arms opening corresponds to the the body’s total height and the waist can be used as a middle point of reference.

Cesariano, Homo quadratus, 1521

These drawing techniques rely on the studies carried out by Leonardo Da Vinci following Vitruvio’s ancient text De Architetura. Both Da Vinci and Vitruvio looked into the measurements that form the human body and how these are translated into human environment. In particular Leonardo, by inscribing the human figure in a circle and a square discovered how the geometrical relationship between these shapes is defined by the golden section, a mathematical proportion present in many natural forms and often used in classical architecture. This correspondance explains scientifically how we measure the world through our body.

Le Corbusier, Le Modulor, Editions de l'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, 1950

The first piece of jewellery I ever made is called Al Jeel. Here my interest with the body shape is clearly visible. My intention was to create an adornment that would cover the whole torso, highlighting its form.

Margherita Potenza, Al Jeel, 2013

But beyond its structure and shape, how else do I know the territory of the body? With time I realised how my understanding of the body was divided in a double, often contrasting perspective: on one hand a very analytical, fact-based outook; on the other a much more mystical, intuitive approach. But where did these two rather clashing positions come from?

Above is my dad, in his thirties, occupied in a classic dad-activity – reading. My dad is a cardiologist and knows the body very well: its anatomy, its functions, and its deseases. As a kid, whenever I was feeling unwell he would book a blood test for me, to check my iron levels.

This instead is my mum, half-way her twenties, depicted in her typical inquisitive look. My mum is a costume designer, although a more accurate description of her mission in life would be to call her a natural born hippy. She also knows the body very well: its chakras, its meridians, its past and future lives. As a kid, whenever I was feeling unwell she would take me to her tai-chi teacher to get my aura back in shape.

Li Wei, Transparent Ecology,  2001

Later in life I understood two things. Thing one, what made my parents stick together for over twentyfive years is a finely tuned taste in eye glasses. Thing two, what they had tried to do in their own idiosyncratic way was to provide me with a knowledge of my body. But in order to bring together their contrasting positions I had to find a different reading key to what my body was. Rather than knowing my body, I would have to find a way to aknowledge it.

Margherita Potenza, sketches, 2012

This is an extract from a series of drawing I made a few years ago, trying to identify the points of contact between the body’s inner structure – the skeleton – and its outer surface – the skin.

A plaster shell of my torso, 2016

To aknowledge the body means to recognize it as a presence that takes over a specific space defined both by its physical delimitations and by its interactions with the outside world. The first way to understand this presence is to observe it: beginning with its appearance and following with its activities, both internal and external. What kind of information does the body register and how does it react? What influences it?

Margherita Potenza, Bodyscanner, 2015

During my first semester at RCA I presented an interactive installation called Bodyscanner. The installation was formed of a wooden box where I had put a plaster mould of my back. The audience could slip their hand inside the box but could not see what was in it. In this way they had to gradually discover the shape of my back through touch instead of sight.

Interestingly enough, when I started applying to my work the idea of aknowledging the body I found myself in a rather testing moment of my life: I had just moved to London. London is Europe’s best example of a city out of scale. Far distant from the humanist belief of an urban space built around men, London functions like a restless engine, where humans are meant to flow orderly between its gears in order for it to endlessly run. It is here, commuting for hours in a tube designed to fit perfectly the cavernous tunnels that criss-cross the city but not for a tall person to stand in it comfortably that I understood how heavily the body’s presence is defined by the environment that surrounds it. As bodies we live in the search of a fragile balance between shaping and being shaped.

Margherita Potenza, Exercises for personal laziness, 2015

Margherita Potenza, Zouwang - sitting forgetting, 2016

Margherita Potenza, Horizontal Theory, 2016

This idea of an environment for the body greatly influenced my work at the RCA. I started thinking of jewellery as something to be inhabited rather than an object to be worn. My final project consisted of an interactive space where visitors could withdraw temporarily from the surroundings and experience directly my research on rest, inactivity and existential rigeneration. In a city that runs at 200 km/h in a circle, this poem by Robert Fillou was my mantra.

Realising how the body is in constant exchange with the environment has shifted my attention on a new element: energy. Energy is the common denominator between the different realms the body exists in: we source, produce and expense energy both in physical, emotional and mental terms. Moreover, developing the ability to perceive and recognise body energy would enable us to preserve it, store it and express it through our individual potency.

Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, Futurability, the age of impotence and the horizon of possibility, Verso Books, 2017

Potency is a concept that I discovered reading Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s writings, an italian thinker whose ideas helped me understand why London was feeling so exhausting. Potency is the individual ability to visualise the field of possibilities inscribed in reality and to bring them to existence. Potency is the strength that allows us to see beyond what the structure of power deems ‘possible’ and to enact what is currently considered ‘impossible’. Understanding how our bodies create and expense energy is then the key to fulfill our lives and bring meaning to it.

Juan de la Cosa, chart, 1500

So this is how I came to decide that mapping the different forms of energy in my body would be the way to aknowledge it. To do so I started testing different approaches: the first is to try out different kind of treatments that involve the passage and flowing of energy – such as breathing techniques, Reiki and other forms of massage. The second will be to investigate my ability to perceive energy both through sensorial stimulation and isolation. A third path will involve the use of materials that react to physical changes and can thus record the body’s evolving conditions.

But most importantly I wish to base my research on collaborative exchanges and shared experimentations, which I hope to sparkle through a number of meet-ups where to exchange thoughts and put ideas into practice. If this project resonates with you and your interests, if you would like to participate or get involved with it, let’s get in touch! If you wish to join me in a series of practical sessions, please contact me on my e-mail address margheypot@gmail.com and I will forward the dates and details concerning this.

Thank you for reading and keep following this blog to learn more about Body as territory / jewellery as map. See you again soon!


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