Entering the pristine and clinical space filled with Elanor Antin’s 148 silver gelatin prints of her body (whilst undergoing a ‘carving’ process) is an experience that is voyeuristically unnerving. This tiny space in the Henry Moore Institute almost feels like an incubator of inescapable physicality. The viewer is faced with the opportunity to interrogate the compulsive process of the artist’s bodily change.
The works are precisely placed in rows and columns according to the stage of the Body’s ‘Carving’ process. Each individual print represents one day and the viewer witnesses the body decrease in weight due to dietary changes. This ritualistic documentation is displayed even more mathematically due to the fact that the weight of the artist at each point in the process is documented by text on the wall accordingly. Throughout the whole series of prints the viewer witnesses the artist losing just under ten pounds. With this intimate window into the artist’s body in the space comes a heightened awareness of the viewer and their behaviour. The inclination to keep checking the various weights against the relevant prints in comparison to the others is overwhelmingly satisfying. There is something about the order and routine that appeals to the human instinct. However, what is strange is that the space evokes an element of surveillance, both in regards to the work itself and the way it is viewed. Whilst screening the images routinely there becomes a paranoia of how long you should be looking at each piece, how long you spend in the space interrogating this stranger’s body and monitoring their weight loss. The viewer almost takes on a ritualistic approach to the work, trying to spend time equally on each print and search for the exact details.
As well as touching upon ideas of viewer interaction, the exhibition also relates to body image and the transformation of the body. The initial feelings of reluctance and nervousness in the space seem to disappear as time elapses. After studying the prints, there is a realisation that this body is kind of being viewed in the space as a beautifully transforming object. This adds a whole new dimension to the viewer experience, in that it switches the previously uncomfortable element of the work to a one of admiration for the human form and the dedication to the process of transformation. This in turn gives the work an incomparable intimacy and allows viewers to fully experience this portion of the artist’s life and feel every moment with Antin. Thus, on returning to the fact that this isn’t an object but a human being, the viewer is given a space in which to reflect on their own body in comparison to the artists.
This work is not only physically powerful in terms of the changing body but it is also very powerful in terms of connecting the viewer to a space and a process. Even the smallest portion of time spent in this ‘incubator’ of physicality cannot be forgotten upon leaving the gallery space and plays to all of our inner desires of control and order. Eleanor Antin, ‘CARVING’: A Traditional Sculpture’ (1972).
Michaela Hall is an artist and writer and at the time of writing, is studying for a BA Hons Fine Art degree at Newcastle University.
Eleanor Antin, ‘CARVING’: A Traditional Sculpture 1972. Installation View. Image courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York. Photography: David Cotton.