Wave Collective: How would you best describe your practice?
Alice Cooke: My practice uses photographs, moving image and text, studying the role of the female in today’s society, challenging expectations about gender specific behaviour and questioning where this leaves my personal sense of belonging. This, combined with a more general consideration of our relationship to the human body, results in narratives that touch broadly on the nature of physicality and more specifically on personal sentiment. A continuous and thorough research process is an important element that underpins my work; my ideas and criticisms informed largely through literature. My work subtly integrates personal experience along with a study of larger, more complex issues: an expressions and study of myself in relation to a broader cultural condition. The notion of belonging is deeply rooted in my work, analysing the significance of a lack of belonging within one’s body juxtaposed with a strong sense of belonging to a landscape. Landscape and body regularly become one in my work, a merging of bodies, an interest in the origins of human existence and a criticism of the immanence of the female body.
WC: Tell us about your piece ‘Is it That I Cannot See Myself?’
AC: ’Is it That I Cannot See Myself?’ arose from extreme tension between mind and body: an issue that I feel is specific to my female condition but equally far more widespread than my own experiences as a woman. The title came from an extract of Iris Marion Young’s ‘On Female Body Experience’2009): ‘Is it that I cannot see myself without seeing myself being seen?’ an extreme paranoia of how we are viewed from the outside, unable to see ourselves objectively and separately from others. The paranoia of how we are perceived creates large issues between our mind and body; as a result we are unable to disassociate ourselves from societal expectations and thus leaves our mind feeling further burdened by our body. My work also addresses this burden in a very personal way, influenced by my own experiences as a woman and the real and vivid ways in which this has affected my life. Not only is the burden of the body present because of my place in society as a woman, but also by feeling at times failed by my human condition generally, when the mind doesn’t work perfectly and the body doesn’t function as it should. The Cornish landscape and my sense of belonging to it is also a vital element in my work; a question of where we belong arising from the tension between oneself and the body, oneself and society.
WC: What was your thought / work process when making the work?
AC: This project was the development of some work I made about 6 months earlier. The former work was triggered by a particularly difficult time I was having, when I was struggling with some mental health issues and some significant changes in my life. I was going through an emotionally testing few months that led me to start creating work that was confessional and turned into a kind of practice of self reflection. I began making the work intuitively and without intent for what it ultimately became. It started to become what I had unconsciously wanted it to be, developing into a moving image piece that was far more complex both visually and conceptually than the first photographs.
WC: How does the lens, whether in still or moving image making, affect how you see or see yourself? What kind of filter is it? Being negative or positive, does it impose or rather focus your gaze past itself?
AC: The relationship itself between the lens and myself is rather unspecific. I see it neither as a hindrance nor does it work to my favour- it is just there. In this way, it is emblematic of audience; the only way it impacts me is that I perform for it and its presence makes me persistently aware that I am being watched. Similarly, the audience isn’t that important for me. It is as if the character will be perpetually there, within the screen, always preforming regardless of surveillance. The lens does not do anything except provide distance between audience and subject, a physical boundary: a distancing between the subject and audience, further alienating the woman who performs.
WC: Something that stands out in your piece is a sense of lack of belonging to one’s body. How do you think society contributes to this concept of alienation from ones own self?
AC: It’s a controversial subject as Feminist issues have come a long way; women certainly have far more control over their lives now than they have historically. However, I feel that there is still a shared feeling amongst many females in our society (and I’m sure globally) that firstly, we must behave and portray ourselves inline with patriarchal/ societal expectations and secondly, we still are subjected to many instances that make us feel as if ownership over our body has been taken.
Speaking from my personal experiences, the way the society grants men ownership over women’s bodies (particularly young women) contributes massively to a feeling of alienation from oneself. The demonstration of ownership over another’s body happens so frequently that most people would not even consider it a problem, as it is internalised as normal behaviour. When we experience unwanted touching, comments, stares, as small and insignificant as they may seem, it contributes hugely to tension between our mind and body. When I mention the lack of agency and belonging to oneself, I also consider that the body’s functioning can only be controlled to a certain degree.
WC: What significance does gesture, pose and movement have within the piece?
The piece is entirely defined by gesture and movement; this is why I chose to create a moving image piece for this particular project instead of still images. The project progressed from constant attention to the way I moved my body, and specific actions continually made, which were a quest to find the perfect articulation; a way to express oneself and make sense of a body that feels alien. Sequences of gestural oddity were bred from this and became a vital motif in my work, representing the peculiarity of intentionally repeated movements, arrangements that seemed far from natural.
AC: Tell us what are you working on right now / next?
In January I’m exhibiting with ArtRooms fair in Melia White House, where I will be showing this project, so I have been preparing my work to be exhibited. I plan to continue working on a project very similar to this one and further the work I have already done, hoping to exhibit it more in the future. I have also been shooting with Sabat magazine for a book they are publishing in the spring.