Project 3.2 – Ex. 3.1: Body as canvas

  • Project 3.2 – Ex. 3.1: Body as canvas
  • Project 3.2 – Ex. 3.1: Body as canvas
  • Project 3.2 – Ex. 3.1: Body as canvas

the process of enactment, appropriation and transformation through the restaging of an image using my own body – OCA coursematerial P2SP

At the beginning of this part, I reflected upon my recent works with taking as my starting point my installation work Walking Through Painting, capturing my body presence. How does my body, similar to the objects arranged, can act and perform in the same staged scene? Reflecting on my structural constellation works a sense of trans-verbal language. A question of objecthood and subject. I like the idea of participatory work.
The work still installed in my studio space – I wanted to put me inside of it, presence of my body compared to the absence of it in the original version. Enacting participation, though fragmented and more a memory of presence (Fig. 1). I was inspired by some works seen (various examples on the net: Liu Bolin or Natalie Fletcher or Johannes Stötter) where people get intentionally merged or blended with the background – stealth in military terms. Though, I find the mentioned works rather effect driven, or kitsch in the sense of focusing on mere effects versus process. Some works with ‘polka dots’ of the artist Yayoi Kusama are going in that direction but less blending, more merging and using repetition – asking the question what is object and subject.
Stefan513593 P3Ex2 The digital body

Fig. 1. The digital body in space, enacted in painting – painting sculpture (from part 2) with me walking through and digitally post-edit – layering – concealing, disappearing –  movement in still images 


=> These digital sketches based on my photographed sculptural painting might open another direction of what painting might be. What is materiality? What is paint? As if the acrylic paint from the objects turn into screen based color flooding the image, printed out and reproduced. I focused on hands and feet, more visible – the actors of the making?

It seems that my steps to get there are following an interesting process:

-> Sketchbook ideas -> making objects -> assembling objects -> painting objects -> painting a scenery from various viewpoints using digital sketches to support finding perspectives -> photographing and reproduction -> photographing my performance, enactment -> digital sketches to conceal and to merge -> to reproduce.

It might be just asking for moving images. But for now, I do refrain for spending too much time in making this happen. To work more around materiality, a physical flip-book might be something to look at in the future.

In-Between space – materiality and tactility 

The next step would be going the other way round -> using digital reproduction for painting / or for moving images -> endless repetition? what is the essence? The viewer lost in transmission, -lation, -forming? Physical versus virtual space , materiality of paint and reproductions, ontological question of ‘painting’.

I tested layering and fragmentation further in my sketchbook – not an end (Fig. 2) just a beginning – opening dimensions of multiplicity of figure and ground, and the idea of composing it together, a triptych?  A spatial installation? That would need more consideration for formal elements and relationship between outer and inner forms. Also the question of color choice, rate of merging, what stays visible, what not. I do feel that this staging was a good source for inspiration , to be inside my work, painting feels actually quite inspirational. 

Stefan513593 P3Ex2 The digital body, sketchbook collage

Fig. 2: The digital body – ideation, sketchbook collage, overpainted with gouache; left concealed – right revealed 

This work brings me to Clare Price and her IG photographs, with her in the studio space, in front of one of her painting, with painted stains, and with performative actions in the same scene.

Another thought crossed my mind when making it, reference to the title of the retrospective show of Bruce Nauman in Basel: ‘The Disappearing Acts’. I think I didn’t really got the meaning of it during my visit, but can relate to it through my work much more. And the header image of the MoMA exhibition (same after Basel) got me thinking in different terms – not the contrapposto and the classical proportional system of seven of the human figure, rather in context of fragmented layers, movement, and dislocation of part (what brings me back to my MRI project)

The course invites me to look at hands – wondering how relevant this might be and if my feet are more not relevant in my own art practice (see Fig.3)

Stefan513593_working with feet
Fig. 3: Working with feet (drawing, painting, traces): top left and center from part 1, bottom left from part 2, right from personal project drawing1

Feet do act – summary

Feet do act and present:

  • verbs: to stand, to connect, to act, to draw, to paint

On the other side, the hands are what is reaching out: to other people (shaking hands) or is used for art making (painting) and specifically what is the ‘tool’ that clients in my art therapy practice are using: to paint with the hands (Fig.4) 


Stefan513593_working with hands

Fig. 2: Working with Hands: Michelangelo, ‘Laundry’ Performative Painting from Part 1, my art therapy practice, Bruce Nauman ‘Untitled – Hand Circle’, 1996


Researching artists with a unique expression of ‘hands’ brings me to Richard Serra and his short video works Hands Tied, 1971  (03:30 min) with two performers tight at the wrist of one of their hands, twisting, shaking and untying eventually the knot and Hand Catching Lead, 1968 related to his work on House of Cards with heavy blocks of lead (UbuWeb) and – as the source of inspiration for Serra – the work Hand Movie, 1966 of Yvonne Rainer as one of the early attempts to explore video (iStéphane CERRI, 2017). I find Serra’s description on how he perceives his exploration in art quite insightful, as it allows a focus on the embodied relationship between subject and object:

I think the significance of the work is in its effort, not in its intentions. And that effort is a state of mind, an activity, an interaction with the world… – Richard Serra

Jenny Saville is another artist I feel inspirational.  Through her drawing and painterly exploration of figure in space and time I can sense a rhythm – alongside a focus on the supportive, and overall a very gestural expression of hands. As real material expression of skin (Gagosian Gallery, 2018) .

In context of my personal project I was more interested in clinic and medical related hand gestures. Reminding myself of what I did with my hands while being inside the MRI machine (or not doing). One example is the photograph on the blog post regarding Tabitha Moses (Walker Art Gallery, 2014) wearing her patient gown embroidered with fertility symbols while spending her time in trying to give life for a baby through IVF.

Feet do act and present – summary

  • verbs: to connect, to act, to support, to paint, to fold, to wrestle, to fasten, to rest
  • emotions & feelings: relax, anxious, nervous, peaceful, curious

The way artists make use of hands are diverse:

  • placing in center or off-center, repetition through multiple hands reflecting on motion, video to show hand in action, foreshortening to focus on hands, folded hands to express rest, hands as touch
  • action, movement, rest, intertwined 
  • line or shaded, bright or dark

I was wondering how I could appropriate my inside-the-MRI.machine experience, inspired by my above ‘Digital Body’ sketches (Fig. 1). I didn’t have a photograph of me inside the machine, thus decided to enact that moment and to stage myself: asking my assistant (my lovely wife Anja) to take photographs of my laying position, wearing a patient gown  (Fig. 5). Considering my hands and arm position, holding in one hand the emergency button (also enacted) and trying to relax, with close eyes as I did at that time, trying to overcome possible claustrophobic sensations (with the cage close to my head; here not enacted)

Stefan513593 -Body & Hands MRI

Fig. 5: Body & Hands MRI- photo credit: Inselspital Bern

Staging the Body

With further reflection on my initial experiments with crossing borders between the digital and the physical in relationship to painting, I decided to postpone further work on my ‘MRI hands’ and to look at the hopefully less complex appropriation of Richard Serra‘ s video work Hand Catching Lead, 1968 (Ubu). The for me intriguing elements (sketchbook explorations – Fig. 6):

  • Movement and performative action
  • Video as reproduction or documentation, but also a sense that the process of seeing is part of the work
  • The rather contained images, seen either on a TV set (as I’ve seen recently at Kunstmuseum Basel) or on a computer screen (video from Ubu webpage). The latter adding more layers: not only the frame of the screen, but also the frame of my computer screen with the video frame inside of it
  • The question of how the various layers could work together in a performative painting, not to copy merely Serra’s video art, but to add a contemporary twist to it (digital, video, screen, layers)
  • Paint as contextual material, at times even with a psychedelic touch
Stefan513593 - P3Ex2 Catch_Paint - sketchbook explorations

Fig. 6: Sketchbook explorations – ‘hand catching’ – appropriation Richard Serra


My first painterly performance – painted hand, arm in front of painted background – without object to catch, yet (video, 0:05min – no audio)


Enacting Richard Serra

My performance in the box, a painterly interpretation of space and time:

My first attempt of making the TV box – painted background – collage with cut outs inkjet print photographed painted hand/arm (still images) – a painted performance in two acts:

Stefan513593 -P3Ex2 Catch-Paint-Box

Fig. 6: Catch-Paint-Move – TV Box


With the box made and ready to go, I decided to make two slits: at the top and at the bottom, so that I can put small objects (torn painted paper) top-down, hoping that with my performative hand either to catch them or they would fall through the bottom slit to the ground (gravity as my helper).

My approach reminded me of the work of Mona Hatoum Pull, 1995, an installation and life performance. What might have been perceived as a split installation of a video of the artist and a pigtail, was actually the artist herself seen through two openings. Pulling her hair meant to pull at her head (O’Reilly, 2009:60)

My painterly performance in the box – falling objects in the box – no hand to catch  (video, 1:28min – with audio)


My painterly performance in the box – catching falling objects in the box – failure to catch and breaking the 4th wall (video, 3:23min – with audio)


My feelings, sensations and thoughts during the performance:

  • where to look at? inside the box on my hand?  at my hand putting the objects in the top slit? looking at the camera screen to observe how I catch, or fail to do so? viewpoints that eventually made me dissociated from my inside-the-box-hand 
  • not attention to my hand made my hand feel dissociated from me, getting tired over time
  • catching objects in the same space I am present is different from catching objects in a box (split space)
  • with the the hand felt ‘hungry’, kind of saying to me: “feed me with more objects!”
  • reminding me of my failure performative paintings from part 1 : catching as and endless effort – till physical exhaustion (with some reference to Rashad Newsome’s Shade Compositions
  • interesting to view it again and to see how my other hand (the real hand?) is reaching for objects and reaching even inside the box from the outside, kind of breaking the fourth wall as related to modern ‘realistic’ theater, to overcome alienation of the audience from the actors, (see also my UVC post on that


Next stage would be to include more context: my viewing experience 

The framed catch-box:

two performative paintings with multiple frames (both photographic reproductions): 

  • still image from life performance (see videos above) as digital composite within painted frame (context) – Fig.7
  • life performance within the double framed box  – Fig. 8

Opening the question what is real, physical – what do we see or believe we see?



Stefan513593 - P3Ex2 Catch_Paint_Box - composite

Fig. 9: Catch-Paint-Move – framed box in a displaced world – digital composite of life performance

Stefan513593 - P3Ex2 Catch_Paint_Box - performance

Fig. 8: Catch-Paint-Move – framed box in a displaced world – life performance


This picture will challenge the viewer and the reader of this post:

What it real? What is physical? What is digital composite? What is painted? What is my body? What is virtual Can it be animated? Where is the action happening?

If I would play more with frames, breaking borders between the physical and the digital? From where would my hand enter the scene? And what if the ‘catching hand’ gets out of the frame and type on the keyboard? Completely surreal.

Reflection & Conclusion

  • It is amazing to experience how my viewing experience of a video work of Richard Serra from 1968 is been transformed into a different experience. It is less about Serra’s experience working with lead logs, or with the motion aspects of early video art. It turned out to be more a question of space, association and dissociation (my performing hand separate from my body and thoughts). Although the action of my hand is the same as Serra’s hand and the video camera looking at the same scene (hand catching objects), the overall appeal of the work is it obvious staging and appropriation with the touch of visible context (me reaching towards objects, inside the box, putting my hand inside the box and out of it etc.)
  • The original work certainly influenced my choice of color and background (black and white, brick wall, blacl TV set frame reminding of analog TV sets in museums). I put a more contemporary context around this memory and possibly nostalgic depiction through showing more context: part of me interacting with the performative box, and the painted frame around it depicting my laptop screen and material relating to how we look at moving images (digital, online, screen based) 
  • Enactment of body inside a painting, bringing the subject alongside the object(s)
  • Paint as combining or flattening elements (as I’ve noticed in some of my works during part 2) 
  • Movement – still images – motion and encounter – physical participation of the viewer with flip-book approach?
  • Line as one layer alongside painted areas to interact, to connect, to open up dialogue between both (as seen also in some of the works of Jenny Saville of Clare Price or Vincent Hawkins, or some of my sketchbook works for part 2). Line as activator – versus objects as actors?
  • Appropriation: Work of others or my own works? What is the difference?  This work was inspired by Serra’s video work Hand Catching Lead, 1968 and intentionally made through illusionary painting the work perceivable as some work from the past. Nevertheless, the act of enactment and visibility of context (breaking the fourth wall) places the viewer outside as well as inside the work. 
  • I enjoyed playing with space – the ambiguity what is inside and outside a frame. The questions what is framed? And what is painted and what is a digital composite (relating back to my starting point, Fig. 1)
  • The work opens up narratives with memories, memories and new narratives – the viewer as participatory agent.

Next steps:

I am coming back to my box approach and participatory works, inviting the audience to engage. Therefore, I can envision possible future installations:

  • Putting the box on a wall making it easier for the viewer to put her/his hand inside the box. Possibly to attach a black/white painted glove inside the box, so that each viewer’s hand turns into a staging of Serra’s ‘Hand Catching Lead’ still image
  • Screening a video with just falling objects inside the box, so that the viewer can try to catch the projected objects – and will certainly fail
  • Placing myself (relating to Mona Hatoum’s performative installation Pull, 1995) into a performative role, with my painted hand inside the box . Possibly, to disguise my presence through a wall, leaving just the box visible for the audience. They are invited to through objects through the top slit, my hand trying to catch.
  • More ideas to come …. 


Related Posts
Project 1.2 – Ex 1.1: Painting without the brush
New Music Collaborative Project
  • Dec 16,2018 at 8:57 AM

    There is some amazing stuff in your recent work. I love the idea of you becoming a part of the work, melting into it (resonates a lot with what I am doing too). I especially like the idea behind the hand in the box catching/not catching.

    • Stefan
      Dec 16,2018 at 4:06 PM

      Yes, amazing to see some parallelity. Re hand .it started with a mere appropriation and it feels it (the hand) wants to get somewhere else. Will, see whether I can bring this into my other works, still trying to find some commonalities in what I am doing

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