Take two steps back and look right.
Compare her curves to the figure at the end:
a male athlete extended in archery,
counter-tension of front left arm and back right,
the body gently held upright,
all energy and calm centre.
like his missing bowstring.
Sound of stretching elastic and a ping
Look back at Venus,
all soft and simpering.
Sound of muscle.
muscle: a question of power
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, April 27th to August 20th 2023
muscle is a playful, immersive and interactive audio-ambulatory-installation experience for the visitor to Crawford Art Gallery’s Canova Collection of casts, recently ‘recast’ in a beautiful setting at the entrance to the Gallery. Designed to guide the spectator into specific proxemics, perspectives and focus on these classic figurative sculptures.
muscle invites contemplation of the idealised nude, and its legacy today. The viewing of these art works – formerly both objects of international relations and pedagogic tools – is from the experience of a ‘lived body’ experience. That is, the visitor/viewer, through a text/sound audio guide, experiences the visit not only visually, but also viscerally and imaginatively. The audio-guide, akin to a voice/sound/music radio piece, refers the spectator to their own body sensations, presence and curiosity as they are invited to follow gentle but precise instruction as to how to progress through the space.
muscle engages with society’s contemporary and deleterious obsessions with beauty and perfection, strength and power. It alludes historically to the Ancient Greek cultivation of mind and body in service to the state, and to Hitler’s obsession with Antiquity in his effort to sculpt the flesh of the German nation according to Greek ideals. In exploring examples of the male heroic body by interacting with the Canova Casts, muscle raises specific awareness of women and muscle, and how ‘the weaker sex’, in acquiring physical strength, gains agency. It does not settle the matter however, since the question of the body’s muscularity and strength remains an on-going question in today’s gender politics.
A video film women talking muscle: a question of power by Furse, created with Kilian Waters accompanies the installation: engaging women’s voices who work professionally with their muscularity: a 73 year-old and still active dancer choreographer, a para athlete, a soldier, a pole-dancer, a body-builder, and a top fashion model.
The male body, while not constructed as the site of sexual pleasure, is often symbolic of phallic power. The whole body, muscular, potent, active, may come to represent the phallus. Where softness, curves, smoothness are celebrated in a woman’s body, strength and muscular development are the prerequisites of the male.
Gill Saunders The Nude, a new perspective
People in many cultures have confronted muscle – today more commonly understood as a symbol of virile masculinity – as a problem. For much of history, muscles have been seen as vulgar, meaty indicators of labor; rather than strength they have suggested oafishness or, at best, potentially deviant self-regard. Even today, we’re not clear on whether muscle is an indication of health or narcissism, menace or manliness. (And on women, they present a whole other set of problems.
Daniel Kunitz, How Art Has Depicted the Ideal Male Body throughout History, Artsy, (April 2017)
I come to my chief contention about the origins of muscle-consciousness: the rise of the pre-occupation with muscles, I suggest, is inextricably entwined with the emergence of a particular conception of personhood. Specifically, in tracing the crystallisation of the concept of muscle, we are also, and not coincidentally, tracing the crystallisation of the sense of autonomous will. Interest in the muscularity of the body was inseparable from a preoccupation with the agency of self.
Shigeshisa Kuriyama The Expressiveness of the Body and the divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine
In its setting and its staging, the opening of Riefenstahl’s film [Olympia 1936] thus captured the dialogue taking place across the centuries between the ancient Greek body of stone and the contemporary German body of flesh.
Johann Chapapout Greeks, Romans, Germans, how the Nazis usurped Europe’s classical past