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RT PROFILER 6, 17 SEPTEMBER, 2014


Big science, intimate exchanges, deep humour

Ben Brooker, Cat Jones


Cat Jones, Anatomy's Confection Cat Jones, Anatomy's Confection
courtesy the artist
Multidisciplinary artist Cat Jones is in Adelaide this month as an ANAT Synapse artist-in-residence at the University of South Australia’s Sansom Institute for Health Research. She is attached to the Body in Mind research group who investigate the role of the brain and mind in chronic pain. Here she will be continuing one of her current investigations which looks at the idea of body illusions and their application in treating chronic pain.

Vocationally and geographically, Jones is hard to pin down: her CV spans over 20 years and an impressively diverse range of live art presentations, research engagements and curatorial and advisory roles. Either side of her time in Adelaide will take in a residency in Perth (with the University of Western Australia’s School of Medicine and Pharmacology) and a performance in Fremantle (at October’s Proximity Festival for one-on-one intimate performance). Next year Jones will travel to the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles where she will explore the creation of “bespoke and conceptual scents” for potential use in a performance context.

Jones’ current work is situated at the crossroads between art and science, and performance. I was fortunate enough to be one of only 15 people to experience her Somatic Drifts v1.0 at this year’s national artist hothouse Adhocracy [see RT122]. I was not alone in finding the sensory, one-on-one work which investigates interspecies empathy, to be a memorably affecting experience. Jones is still receiving feedback from audience members: “I’ve seen about five of the participants and each one has wanted to talk about the work again or say something about their experience and their memory of it. So I’ve had positive feedback in that way which is more ‘I really love that work’ or ‘thinking about it I can still feel it in my body.’ Someone I saw recently said they wanted to do it every week. They wanted to book into that experience.”

Cat Jones, Somatic Drifts v1.0; illustration by Cat Jones, remixed under Creative Commons Licence 4. Original images accessed via Wellcome Trust & Stephen Hale Vegetable Staticks, Google Books Cat Jones, Somatic Drifts v1.0; illustration by Cat Jones, remixed under Creative Commons Licence 4. Original images accessed via Wellcome Trust & Stephen Hale Vegetable Staticks, Google Books
courtesy the artist
So is Somatic Drifts art or therapy? “I’m working on Somatic Drifts as an art experience and it’s informing my further research into neuroscience which in turn is feeding back into the work, but I’m not intending Somatic Drifts to be a therapeutic experience. It might lead to the making of experiences that clinicians could use in a therapeutic context.” Jones tells me that in contrast to performance works such as Somatic Drifts, therapy situations tend to be clinical and non-aesthetic: “They might look at touch and vision but they might not necessarily include sound in that environment or things like that so my question to the clinicians I’ve been talking with is ‘can an artistic approach into these situations enhance and move it forward even further?’”

One-on-one performances have a reputation for being confronting in their intimacy and the fact that participants often go in without an exact knowledge of what will happen or what they may be asked to do or discuss. Jones acknowledges this but emphasises the need for participants in her work to feel, at least initially, relaxed and receptive: “I begin with an element of creating a space for deep humour and they lead to great pleasure. However, they are also kind of uncomfortable situations, not necessarily confronting but certainly challenging. In Empathic Limb Clinic [the precursor to Somatic Drifts see RT121 and RT118], participants come into a very enclosed space with one other person and it’s a challenge to know that the performer is going to touch you. It’s uncomfortable for some people and I observe that process through performing—the fear in some people’s eyes—and being able to subtly manipulate that to the point where they barely notice the transition from us not touching to touching. The subversion of expectations as well is a key part of those things and that’s always part of the humour that has usually been my starting point for creating a work—humorous, offbeat, sometimes a little dark.”

At this year’s Proximity Festival Jones will be presenting Anatomy’s Confection, a new work about the anatomy of the clitoris as well as the censorial history of the clitoris’ representation in anatomy textbooks and medical curricula. Participants will create sculptural assemblages during the ten-minute performance. “It’s a topic that is rarely spoken about,” says Jones, “and I guess the language around the clitoris is rarely allowed so I wanted to create an experience that makes that open and also gives the participants a physical experience of that. Making something is a tactile way of taking the idea we are working with into someone’s own body. By making something you also create a sense of ownership over that and with that comes care and responsibility. So it’s going to be fun!”


Anatomy’s Confection by Cat Jones, Proximity Festival, Freemantle Arts Centre, 22 Oct-02 Nov 2014. http://proximityfestival.com/proximity-2014/program/; http://catjones.net

RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. web

© Ben Brooker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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