Body Cartography - a final presentation

As my Artist in Residency comes to its end today, on Friday 28th July I presented the final pieces that I produced during my time in Amsterdam. You can find below a text summarizing my experience in this wonderful city and my research at Stichting Françoise van den Bosch.

The project that I carried out during my residency at Stichting Françoise van den Bosch is entitled Body as Territory / Jewellery as Map. Its aim has been to develop a research on the subject of body perception, looking in particular at the separation between the abstract projection of the body and the sensible experience of it. My intention has been to investigate this duality within my own perception of the body, in order to come to an understanding that could integrate both these aspects. In its final stage the research has been translated into the making of a wearable object that maps the different layers that form the perception of our human body.

The exploration of this issue brought me to source information from different fields, giving me an outlook of the multiple ways in which body perception can be approached. At the beginning of my residency I started experimenting with a number of practices such as meditation, breathing techniques and sensorial deprivation, which all focus on concentration and the detached observation of the body in order to achieve a greater awareness of it. Together with the experience of Reiki - a healing treatment based on energy flows – these various trials were the occasion to gain different perspectives on the mechanism of body perception.

The idea of mapping the body came with the understanding of it as a complex system, a territory still uncharted under many angles. Knowing this, maybe if we approached the body with a different set of tools we could discover new, hidden aspects. Visiting the Scheepvaart Museum I discovered how, through history, cartographers have designed maps relying on the pieces of information they had as much as on those they didn’t. This is how for hundreds of years the mysterious and non-existent Summerland has been drawn on world maps below South America. What if the body had its own Summerland, invisible to the eye but perceivable to the senses?

Le Thêatre du Monde ou Nouvel Atlas, Willem Jansz and Joan Blaeu, 1635

In theoretical references, I first started looking into different thesis and beliefs about the connection between the macrocosmic and microcosmic systems, where one is reflected in the other and both influence each other. An example of such beliefs is the theory of humors, which explains how the body fluids are connected to different elements of the Earth, the balance of which determine the physical and psychical conditions of a person. This kind of clues helped me make the link between and individual to its environment, understanding how a specific surrounding affects the body’ state on many levels.

At this point of my research started following a more specific direction: body energy became the focus of my work, as this concept appeared to be the common denominator between the different realms of a human being: the physical, the emotional and the mental one. These three aspects of human existence all rely on the consumption of different forms of energy, so the way energy is produced, sourced, and expended became the revolving point of my project. This shift was also encouraged by the reading of Bifo Berardi’s Futurability, a philosophical essay that formulates the concept of ‘potency’ as an individual’s ability to actualize the multiple possibilities that reality enshrines. This idea of someone’s power to shape and transform the context he exists in impressed me strongly and resonated with the ultimate aim of my research: to recognize the energy inscribed in ourselves in order to preserve it and express it into the world, making a positive and meaningful impact on it. This realization was made evident in Achter de Ramen’s window display, which was eloquently entitled ‘Where did your strength go?’. In fact this somewhat provocative question refers to the part of my project that questions the internal and external causes that block, disperse and deplete our body energy, making exhaustion and burnouts and endemic problem of modern life.

Having chosen to focus on the perception of body energy, an important turning point came with a series of improvisation dance classes I started taking in a nearby studio. These classes showed me a simple as much as powerful way to trigger energy: the performance of rhythmic movements to sound within an interacting group of people. Music notably has the power to alter our behaviour and the dynamics that take place while dancing freely in a group are a strong illustration of the existence of body energy beyond its merely physical form. Experiencing how dance awakens body energy led me to formulate the ‘method of recognition’ through which I was able map the passage of energy in it. 

The method is composed of two phases: observation and activation. The observation phase consists in drawing attention to the body space, acquiring a sensible consciousness of its structure: its basic frame and its articulations, its point of strength and points of weakness… The activation phase is enacted through touch and movement, which enliven the parts that allow the access, the flowing and the release of energy, turning on its system of circulation. By mean of observation and activation I came to define my practice of body-mapping, the visual results of which are exhibited today in Rian de Jong studio, as part of the installation Body Cartography.

Body Cartography (work in progress), wax pieces and pencil on paper

In the studio visitors will find various versions of the body map. A few of them had already been shown in Achter de Ramen: the paper cut-out of a torso (1), a black textured mask and the body prints of my back, my head, my hand and my foot (2). The torso cut-out is the first step I made out of the theoretical stage of my research and into the practical one. It stands for the classical, idealized interpretation of the body which I was about to remove from its abstract objectiveness and immerse into my empirical subjectiveness.

Torso, paper cut-out (1)

The ‘antropometries’- borrowing the term from Yves Klein’s performative paintings – were the occasion to bring in the shapes of my own body, in an attempt to produce a non-mediated representation of it, a direct projection of the body made by it and made of it.

Antropometries, make-up on fabric (2)

The thermochromic dress on the wall (3) functions as a body energy living map: thanks to the thermoreactive dye it has been covered with, the dress changes colour in contact with body heat, showing a lighter shade in correspondence to specific parts. This way the passage of energy through the body is made explicitly visible.

Thermochromic dress, thermochromic dye on fabric (3)

The chart (4) on the side of the metal closets draws the attention to the method of recognition mentioned above: this sequence of positions illustrates the practice of observation and activation. Taking these postures, the areas of the body - on the feet, the back, the torso, the hand and the head - that I recognized as points of access can be identified and awakened by touch. As the hand palm is also considered a point of release, the contact between these two parts ideally creates a circuit where energy can flow freely.

Positions chart, print on paper (4)

Finally the last version of the body map (5) sums up all the information I have gathered on the subject of body energy. These two shapes, the back and the front of my body, show a full antropometrie as the basic layer, on which the points where energy is sourced and released are indicated, as well as the areas of stagnation and those of leaking.

Body map (paper version), pencil on paper (5)

Body map, ink, pealing cream and make-up on fabric, cast copper appliques and electroformed copper elements (5)
Along the map’s frontal shape a set of three copper elements have been positioned (6), outlining an ideal standing/laying posture from which to passage of energy can be observed. These pieces are to be hold at the bottom of the pelvis, in the belly button and below the chin.

Copper elements, electroformed copper (6)

Corresponding to the points of access, a series of copper appliques (7) can be found. These appliques form the final outcome of my residency project, the wearable object in which the conceptual process of body-mapping is inscribed. Sitting on the borders of jewellery’s definition, these pieces can be worn directly on the skin and are made of copper, a metal closely related to the concept of energy. It is one of the elements that best conduct energy in forms of heat and electricity, but it is also a vital nutrient for all living forms, necessary to the performance of many physiological functions. Once worn, the pieces are meant to highlight the points of access, making a direct reference to the body map, and at the same time to actively facilitate the sourcing of energy and its circulation through the body. This way the appliques represent the culmination of my project both theorically and practically.

Cervical copper applique (7)

Collar copper applique (7)

Carpus copper appliques (7)
(pictures from @currentobsessionmag)

In conclusion, my research on the perception of the body’s physical, emotional and mental realms led me to the definition of an empirical practice to recognize body energy, and to design a map illustrating the passage of such energy through the body. The map has been translated into a piece of jewellery and the wearer of this piece shall be someone who believes in the value of this research as an attempt to deepen one’s self-knowledge, ultimately making a gesture of self-affirmation, a positive statement toward one’s presence and potency.

This amazing experience is now over, and I would like to thank Stichting Françoise van den Bosch for offering me the precious opportunity to develop and foster my work in such an inspiring environment, as well as all the lovely people that have supported me in this exciting but sometimes intense journey.

And finally thank you for reading this blog! You can keep following my work on Instagram at @margherita_potenza and on my website


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