Over the weekend, I decided to put my Tate pass to good use and went to see the exhibition Performing for the Camera, which ended on Sunday 12th June after a four month run. Combining two of the Tate Modern’s key interests – performance and photography – the exhibition examined the relationship between the two, taking us from the invention of the photographic medium in the nineteenth century, to digital cameras and social media. The works included dealt with a wide range of topics, such as identity politics, constructed families and improvisational snapshots. The exhibition itself was split into various rooms, each of which conveyed their own theme.
I very much enjoyed wandering through and exploring the many ways photography has and continues to be presented as performative. And although photography was not allowed in the exhibition (l’ironie!) I made a note of some of my favourites, so that I could share them with you below. So for anyone who didn’t get a chance to catch the exhibition while it was still on, here are some of the works, categorised by theme. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Looking at performances that exist solely to be photographed, rather than simply documenting events that would have taken place regardless.
Photographic Actions The idea of a photographic image creating a unique space within which an action can be performed or captured.
Photography as used to create opportunities to enact poses and characters, exploring deeper questions and ideas of identity, race, religion and gender.
Traces some of the ways in which the photographic self-portrait can explore notions of identity.
Brief back story for this particualar photography series which I found interesting: To counter the feeling that she was disappearing, the artist, Adrian Piper, would photograph the reflection of herself in a mirror, often fully nude, while recording herself reciting the passages from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781).
Performing Real Life
Exploring the elements of performance that inevitably seep into our factual images, particularly in the advent of the camera phone and social media.
While walking along a nearby canal about a month ago – something I like to do when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed – I couldn’t help but think to myself: these bad things, this violence – it seems to follow me wherever I go. Year after year I somehow end up in the same cycle.
A young girl fills her bed until the mattress overflows on all sides, with streams of roses, violets, heliotropes and lilies trailing to the floor. Only once she has sealed her tomb, does she arrange herself on her bed to suffocate – dying with the flowers.
My current mood has shifted in the last few months from overwhelming sadness, to long periods of numbness followed by a sporadic burst of emotion. Initially, I saw this as an improvement – however I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case. You see, feeling overwhelmingly sad is never pleasant. But in most cases it means you lack the energy and desire for other things, whether that’s eating or an activity requiring some level of motivation. Therefore my only possible response is to sleep as much as I can while the days move past me. In my current numbness however, I am by most estimates fairly functional. I’m still depressed and I still struggle with anxiety, but I’m able to move some of my more intrusive thoughts aside and continue with my day which leads me to wonder if I’m really sad at all. The answer of course is yes, you fool, because the numbness only seems to serve as a countdown to an inevitable outburst of distress – in some cases resulting in self-harming behaviour when I can’t cope with the sudden onset. As an example: the other day after another numb period I was out and about, and upon realising I couldn’t find an address I was looking for I immediately broke down in tears in the middle of the road, cursing myself for being such a useless human being.
It is this very same mood I was in many mornings ago during a meeting with one of my support workers. Somewhere amongst the more general questions of how I was feeling, I had an emotional outburst and broke down talking about how I felt like I wasn’t making any progress with my depression (a frequent fear of mine). In this I also revealed how I was not being entirely truthful about my thoughts and behaviours when asked if I had been having suicidal inclinations. The reason for the lies were fairly simple in my mind: I didn’t want to feel like I was failing others by not improving as quickly as I thought I should be, and I was holding on to the fear that they’ll give up on me if I told them the truth. This of course just results in keeping thoughts to yourself that you would probably feel better with sharing instead. But it’s a scary step in itself to recognise that you yourself are disappointed when you wake up every morning, not to mention sharing that thought with someone else. Something I noticed though was that this ‘hiding’ is something I’ve done countless times in the past, and here I was doing it again with my mental health. When you can see that someone cares about your wellbeing, you no longer want to share with them the whole picture of how you view yourself or the trauma you’ve been through, because you don’t want to either a) hurt them, or b) have them become frustrated with you or even put off, which in many cases hurts more. But in admitting all of this out loud I did start to see some of the faulty mechanisms involved that would ultimately prevent me from feeling better.
So instead, we spoke about my real mood and the coping mechanisms I’ve perhaps erroneously developed for myself. And in discussing the things I’d been through both as a child and more recently, as well as the importance of being easy on myself, she mentioned something that stuck out to me – leaving university is both a very big life event and a very big change for many people. This was comforting to hear, as in the months since I’ve graduated from university I’ve been feeling very negative about myself, which has undoubtedly contributed to the state I’m in now. I had finished my second year with a first (the highest possible grade in UK universities) in nearly all of my modules while simultaneously balancing a part-time job and a place on the executive team of a student social enterprise. I even worked full time for the entire duration of the following summer. But for some reason, as soon as my third year began I couldn’t cope any more. Everything was different – I felt different – and I was burned out. I saw this as me just falling back into my depression from previous years, but even when I dropped my other activities and commitments in the hopes it would help me cope better, something in the back of my mind had me on edge. And as I reflect on it more I feel I’m beginning to understand part of what that was – I was anxious about soon was losing part of who I was. For a very long time, I’ve always defined myself as Ruth the Student. Seventeen years of my life have been spent in school or higher education institutions. It was all I knew, it was all I felt good at. Even when I worked during summer holidays or completed internships I always knew that I was a student, and that I would be going back. Additionally although I didn’t realise it at the time, university had become a safe place I could go to when other things around me such as my home life became too chaotic or disorientating. It was a place to run away and feel safe again, and upon graduating and returning to London I realised I no longer had a safe place to go. But still I tried to adjust to my post-university world because I didn’t want everyone to think I had given up, even though I knew mentally I was slowly deteriorating. I sometimes struggle to get my words out, and I definitely didn’t have the words to describe it all as I do now. But I do think I tried my best to explain to others what I thought was happening. Nonetheless, it’s heartbreaking when the people most important to you who you thought loved and cared about you, don’t seem to even want to understand and instead think you’ve just stopped trying for yourself.
Many people find it difficult to cope with university. I’ve met many people, especially more recently, whose attempts at university have driven them to either contemplate or attempt suicide on several occasions. There can be a lot of pressure depending on many things, such as where you attend and the course you study, as well as how much individual pressure you place on yourself. I for one know I certainly came close a few times to not making it to my graduation alive. But I feel that in addition to how stressful university can be, something that people often overlook is how stressful the transition out of that system can be for some people. And it saddens me that if I had just been struggling with the former, some people may have been more understanding. There are, of course, other educational steps a person can take after their initial degree if they choose to do so. But these paths aren’t hard-wired into us from a young age like GCSEs, A-Levels and undergraduate degrees are. Besides that, no one can be a student forever. And even if you’re working towards a Master’s or a PhD, if you are someone who has defined themselves as someone who is good at being a student, sooner or later you’ll have to come to terms with this new world you don’t recognise yourself in any more.
Today is a good day because I’ve just picked up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from my local library. Despite only being a few pages in, I already remember why it is my favourite book. For anyone who hasn’t read it, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a great 2003 mystery novel by Mark Haddon. The novel is narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”, as he attempts to find out who killed his neighbour’s dog.
The reason I’m so fond of it is because I don’t see it as a book about a person with Aspergers as is commonly suggested, or any other autistic condition for that matter (which it isn’t anyway – the author himself has said so). I like it because it allows me to see the world in a new, more revealing way, which I personally think is better. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the main character’s quirks, likes and dislikes, especially the ones I find myself relating to. As an example, Christopher doesn’t like it when people touch him, which for a very long time was something I struggled with as well. Although I sometimes liked affectionate touching such as hugs, for some reason I really didn’t like it when people’s body parts came in contact with my own. This extended even to situations where I was not purposely being touched, such as someone’s arm touching me on a packed bus. I would have to either move away into my own space, or get off the bus completely. Looking back I’d definitely say this has improved slightly over the years, but I still don’t like it very much.
However, simply knowing that I’m enjoying the book again has been a bit of a relief for me. Although I’m not very open about it (mostly due to feeling embarrassed) I sometimes struggle with reading large chunks of text. I do get through it eventually, but it can often take me a long time. My brain also has an odd tendency to examine words in a way I can only describe as ‘fleshing out’, which I sometimes have to do several times before I can move on. The unfortunate result of all this is I usually avoid reading books now unless it’s necessary, for example if it’s something to do with my studies. What confuses me the most however is that I used to love reading – I would spend hours after school in the library finding new books and curling up in a warm corner to read them until it was closing time. But as I’ve gotten older, reading seemed to become more difficult. Suddenly there were all of these legendary authors, elaborate manifestos and grand novels, and I felt like it was expected of me to read them now I was a ‘grown up’. But for whatever reason, I was either never able to finish them or I would lose interest pretty quickly. The reason I mention all of this, is because I’ve found reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a lot easier, which is comforting. Perhaps then it’s just the novels geared more towards adults that I don’t seem to like.
As I’m typing this all out I’m realising I probably should have mentioned this reading difficulty to a teacher or personal tutor somewhere along the line, but I digress.
In summary: I am reading my favourite book again while also eating mini doughnuts. I am content.
Everything feels pretty rubbish at the moment. In addition to this particularly bad depressive episode, I’ve been trying to come to terms with a new diagnosis that was thrown at me a few weeks ago (huzzah) as well as my usual dismay, disappointment and sadness at some of the events over the past year. Queue the lack of posts, and the melancholic tone when they do sporadically appear.
That being said, after a productive piano session today I’ve just played Moonlight Sonata all the way through without messing up.
If there is anything I have learned over recent months it is that I should always remain in my place. I should not speak up for myself for if I do I will get hit,
or both. I have learned that the bullies still win and that this remains unchanged from when I was a child. I have learned not to open up to another, as soon they will treat me cruelly, and I will not know why.
I have learned I am not loved, and apparently never was. I have learned to cry silently amongst a room full of people. I have learned to hide pain and fear with a blade. I have learned I am easy to forget. I have learned there is no end.