The dark elusive shadow 
Hangs on your heel, 
Festers in the gloom.
You try to hide your shadow 
But see it not, 
Obscured by the light. 
Others see a 
shadow theatre, 
The inner life laid bare.
Its meaning changes 
With different perspectives.
When do fiery Phoenix' wings 
Turn to the ashen feathers of vain Icarus?
Toiling Psyche’s push and pull, 
She repels resistance, 
Yields to desire 
Making callused hands, 
While death-driven callous mind 
Thanks Thatanos
Now with your purple-prose 
tinted spectacles securely on, 
observe…


(4 minute long film)

Cirque De La Lune is a 4 minute long piece of gymnastics and calisthenics based video performance art, shot in my student accommodation basement.

It deploys an artistic framing device wherein the basement represents my subconscious, the exercises I perform represent the push-pull dynamics of the psyche, and the shadows on the wall represent the Shadow side of my psyche, in the Jungian sense.

I enlisted 1 other person to take videos of me on the test shoot and 3 people to help me on set with the filming, lighting and production assistance. Apart from this, everything else is my own doing.
conceptual beginnings
At the beginning of lockdown, the outside world was closed off to me, so my focus turned inward. I committed myself to a strict fitness regimen, and started teaching myself about physiology.

Because I didn’t have access to a printer, I hand drew a cross section of the human body, labelling the muscles. I realised that what I was doing mimicked a Florentine school style study of anatomy.

So from this, I was initially thinking of making a different type of exercise performance art video, where I would composite an animation of the muscles working on top of my body, as I perform certain exercises.

This idea went through many stages of consideration and revision:

- Will people find a workout video boring and show-offy?
- If so, why do people watch gymnastics at the Olympics level? Is it because the framing of elite competition makes one more likely to root for the athletes like characters in a film?
- Gymnastics is fascinating to watch because the aesthetics and performance of a routine are a key criterion of how good an athlete is. A backflip landing has to be ‘clean’. Everything is in strict 45/90/120° angles. The athlete cannot personally see their own form unless they have a mirror , so they have to perform these moves consciously, conscientiously, creating an intersubjective encounter with the viewer.
theory
It occurred to me that the basement, and
cavernous spaces in general are a reoccurring motif in countless parables, allegories and stories.
The first one that came to mind was Plato’s cave but I realised this wouldn’t be a good framework for the film as it would imply that the shadows created by exercise represent ignorance, and by extension that exercise is negative.
My mother pointed out to me that Carl Jung had a dream that he was in a house where the basement represented the subconscious. [2] I then decided to research it and use that dream structure as scaffolding for my film.
As I read more of Jung, I realised that a lot of his terminology is very deliberate. The Shadow, for example - it is dark and elusive, something that follows you around wherever you go, yet you are unaware of it. And it disappears when light (enlightenment/self knowledge) is present.

So then I started imagining how I would fit the Jungian shadow into my conceptual framework so far - the shadows cast on the wall while I’m doing exercises represent my fears, deepest insecurities, wants, needs etc.?
At this stage of development I was still imagining writing a monologue that would be read on top of the video, waxing lyrical about the interplay of shadows and exercises. I continued in this vein of searching for a kind of psychophysical language.
For example - agonist and antagonist are terms that refer to the active and relaxing muscles during a movement.
There is a Hero’s journey ring to these terms; it makes one imagine a superhero and a villain (agonist is in fact a lesser used term for protagonist).
‘Push/pull’ refer to the basic dynamics of an exercise - are you pulling something towards you or pushing it away from you?
Pushing and pulling also encapsulates the dynamics of the psyche: yielding desire or repulsed resistance, splitting off or conjoining, pushing down into the unconscious or pulling something up towards the conscious mind.
Example of a push exercise
Example of a push exercise
Example of a pull exercise
Example of a pull exercise
I then took to my sketchbook, and drew out figures of myself and the accompanying shadows, and tried to do a kind of rorsacht blot style association of images in shadows.
This is also known as pareidolia - first introduced to me by my tutor in the context of his own work.
I then kept at this brainstorming process, drawing out different exercises that I hadn’t filmed with Andrew, or hadn’t built up the strength to do yet.
Instead of starting with a pre-determined story or vision to execute for a film, I instead tried to pull out different possible narrative strands from the drawings I did in my sketchbook.
It seemed like an unusual, backwards way to work, because it was so uncontrolled.

But it actually resembled some of the idea generating ‘oblique strategies’ presented to me by tutors in previous years.
themes
Once I had drawn out all the visual potentialities of shadows cast by the different exercises, I tried to figure out what themes I could aggregate them into, to start to thread all these possible strands into a narrative. 
music and sequencing
By this point, I had Amon Tobin - Big Furry Head in mind as the soundtrack for the video. It was more foreground music than background music - a vast array of timbres and sound combinations. So as you can see, I timestamped what would happen at different parts of the song.
Most of the sequencing was according to which images made most sense to transition to in the story structure, but a lot of the order was choreographed according to the music.
 
I chose this song because I think there’s an amazing range of timbres, and they complement the different exercises well.

The brutal industrial sounds at the beginning pair well with exercises which require a lot of strength and power like dips, pseudo planche pushups and landmine press. There’s a kind of stuttering sound at 1:04 which sounds like heavily distorted gasping, which made me imagine close ups of muscles straining at their limit or me gasping for breath.

The monster snarls coincide with the monster/lion shadow on the wall, and by extension the Shadow of the psyche. Jung says the Shadow often appears to us in dreams and visions as an animal. If you are not good at confronting or integrating your shadow you can be consumed by it, Jung warns “until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. This is what happens in the video.

Then the elegant harp interludes and solo makes me imagine more delicate exercises like stuff with the aerial hoop, or static balancing exercises on rings.  Exercises that suggests weightlessness and grace. It brings to mind the stilted perfectionism of the protagonist in Black Swan trying to perform in  the pressure cooker setting of a classical ballet academy.
storyboard

Opening title sequence and soliloquy play out on a Mondrian style window. 
Camera pans slowly to the other side of the room to reveal me doing ring dips while my movement appears to give motion to an engine, camera whip pans to reveal me doing face pulls with a band, the shadows of the band contract and expand on the wall making it resemble the switching tracks of a train.
 A shadow of a train completes the effect. 
It then cuts between this exercise, and me doing a landmine press.The shadow of this resembles someone pulling and pushing a train lever.
 I then oscillate between the my anima and animus: the shadows of my gym rings on the wall are transformed into the mars and venus symbols while I do an l-sit typewriter pull-up. 
I then dodge a monster shadow while I do ring crunches. The video then cuts between different b-roll of me doing different exercises. 
A lion shadow appears on the wall as I do single arm rows and crunches on the gymnastics ring, perhaps representing the animalistic side of my shadow, until my shadow is completely consumed by it (screen fades to black). 
Then the aerial hoop features, various b-roll of me hanging in different positions.
The floor is covered in lava, I perform a ‘dragon flag’ under my door, lifting my body up so it doesn’t make contact. 
Eventually I fall out of the movement and
am scalded, but then I transform into a Phoenix, and hover in a half iron cross hold. When I fall out of the position, I then transform into what could be seen as the ‘shadow side’ of the phoenix: Icarus.

Once my wings fall off, I  fall through the sky performing a ‘skin the cat’ on the rings. And then finally dive into the ocean beneath me in a handstand hold on the rings. I then sink helplessly further into the ocean, holding various positions
in the aerial hoop and gym rings. Then I swim up to the surface, mimicking a paddling motion on the gym rings.

Once I  swim up to the surface of the water, I reach land and start walking on some sand, only to sink into quicksand. I pull myself out of and lower myself back into the quicksand (metaphor for procrastination, self-sabotage).

I then do an airwalk pull-up, walking up a mountain (Mount Olympus). When I have reached the summit, I attempt to touch the heavens, performing a single arm row. The shadow of the gym rings multiplies fourfold, forming the Olympics logo.
I then perform an impossible plank (plank with arms outstretched, holding onto a weight plate on the  floor that I have to balance). My shadow on the wall performs as a caryatid, part of the Porch of the Maidens at the Temple of Athena in Greece. A dragon flies in from the side and breathes fire on the temple, causing it to fall down.  I fall out of the position.
The floor fills with lava, and I walk on my hands on stepping stones to the end of the room, where the camera pans up to reveal the window where the opening title sequence rolled. Credits roll.
The structure and pacing of my film, with its quick flashes of different archetypes and symbols flowing into one another, mimics Jung’s rapid-fire method of psychoanalysis and divulging of hidden alchemical symbols in literature.
Jung, C. 1970 Faust and Alchemy
Jung, C. 1970 Faust and Alchemy
preparation and strength training
I wanted to include some aerial hoop exercises in the video. I had never even used one before but I thought I would be able to do some of the movements, being at a beginner-intermediate level of callisthenics.

So I watched an aerial hoop routine on YouTube and copied out all the interesting looking positions to see which ones I could perform.

I then made an aerial hoop in the metalworks studio with the help of
Shaun. Amazingly, it turned out £165 cheaper than buying one online.
I also started looking into exercises I could do with gymnastics rings for the video, and
added them to a training regimen.

In the 4 weeks up to the filming of the video, I tried to train every other day with my friend Malcolm, building up my strength and skill level. About 80% of the exercises I had never done before.
blocking + lighting
Once I got to a stage where I could picture how everything would look in my head, blocking of the videographer, lighting and myself became an important consideration.
How could I perform an exercise in such a way that it would cast a strong shadow on the desired wall? How could the lighting operator and videographer work in tandem so that they wouldn’t cross eachother’s paths, and the shadow would be cast in the right place?
Aside from focusing on lighting that would provide strong shadows (strong, single point light source from a torch with a relatively narrow diameter and focus) I also did research on how to light muscles. I found one video on YouTube which was particularly useful that I took notes on.
There were two main lighting set-ups in the video:
For most of the film, where shadow cast on the wall was important, there was hard, high contrast lighting. One key light from the torch that created a strong shadow on the wall, and one optional very dimmed rim light to lightly bring into view the opposite side of my body that would otherwise be lost completely in shadow.
In retrospect I wish these bits were lit better as it made tracking in the editing process harder, because the software could not analyse the room.
For the b-roll, cutaways of hanging football juggling for example, we tried to follow the lighting advice laid out in the YouTube video I watched.  I don’t think the lighting guy actually watched the Light with Muscle video I sent him as I had to keep on reminding him. Because we didn’t have to worry about the shadows cast by these exercises as they weren’t central to the narrative, we set these up more like a stills shoot, just going with whatever made it look flattering.

We had one stronger key light that lit one side of the body, so that it would create pockets of shadow around the muscles from the opposite side. And one rim light on the other side.
Another big thing to figure out was how  I would create the different archetype shadows. There were 3 different ways.


1. Making silhouette cut outs of the shadows, and having someone hold and move them accordingly in front of the torch.

 This turned out to be no good as some of the shadows needed to change shape, and their positioning needed to be very specific in some cases.


2. With a projector 

This also turned out to be no good for several reasons. The projectors from AV could not play videos/required missing parts to connect to my Mac. The projector might also project onto my body, not just the wall.


3. Add the shadows entirely in post-production

This ended up being the best option as it could be tweaked as much as I needed in post-production, it was the cheapest, wouldn’t project onto my body, etc.
filming
Filming commenced on the last week of November, over the course of three days, five hours on set per day.
I photocopied the storyboard and shotlist to hand out to the crew members so all of themwere on task and could understand my vision.
editing
The first stage of editing was sequencing, putting everything in order.
The next stage of editing was colour correction.
I was originally trying to learn all the steps of colour correction and do it manually, as a professional colourist would, however I realised that this was unnecessarily time consuming and so chose a LUT preset for the videos called ST BLUE ICE.
The last and most difficult stage of editing was Motion Tracking and animating the shadows.
Motion Tracking is an intermediate level tool in After Effects so I heavily relied on the  LinkedIn Learning resources for this.
I also used a free trial of the industry standard planar tracking program Mocha Pro.
I made all the animated shadows with Illustrator and After Effectst, and then I linked them to the tracking data in either After Effects or with Mocha Pro.
I fastidiously took notes of all that I had to edit in order to stay on top of the film
display
Installation of Available 
sync (2011)
Installation of Available 
sync (2011)
On the left is a sketch detailing seating options and the gym equipment arranged as a form of sculptural installation within the space.





Having the work be shown in situ reinforces the theme of porous psychic boundaries - the audience is ‘in’ my subconscious.
This set-up is influenced by Ryan Trecartin’s set design approach to installation - the props used in his films feed out into the sculptural installations in which the work is presented.
Although my practice saw a marked departure the work I did in first and second year, I don’t necessarily see my current focus as my ‘final destination’. I can imagine making fantastical surrealist paintings alongside calisthenics/gymnastics based performance art. 
The mature and privileged artist often circles back on themselves to a naïver stage of artistic exploration. For example, Marina Abramovic, Franko B. and Ryan Trecartin, secure in their artistic identity, have not been afraid to sample and contribute to many different genres and forms of expressions, similar to how the greenhorn undergraduate gets to experiment at art school. 
Why forfeit this expanded skill set only to struggle to recover it later? It bears mentioning that the progenitors of classical surrealism collaborated with filmmakers, fashion houses and acrobats. The circus was a popular motif, most notably in Parade, a surrealist ballet. [1]
statement

[1]

Lachmann, Harry B. (1917)

Parade, Diaghilev Ballets Russes

Glass photographic negative

     It requires little thought why the circus would be such a popular motif. 
Surrealism was in part about spectacle and showmanship, outperforming one another in a one-upmanship of imagination. 
This mirrors the audacity of the acrobat who services themselves with the task of overcoming gravity in as many ways as possible. [2]
 Overcoming gravity, overcoming time, there are many links between the acrobat and the artist. 
The appeared weightlessness of a gymnast can be seen to echo the visual artist’s desire to escape the bondage of social custom, for example the dream sequence in Fellini's 8½  [3]
 I conjecture that flying in this sequence is supposed to symbolise the escapist impulse, and the tethered rope, on the other hand, the reality principle of deadlines, schedules and the demands of his production crew.
[2] One handed handstand and half iron cross
[2] One handed handstand and half iron cross
[3] Fellini F.  Opening dream sequence from film 8 1⁄2
[3] Fellini F. Opening dream sequence from film 8 1⁄2
    I did not conduct any artist research as such, as I struggled to find many artists who seemed to be doing work that was both physical and athletic but also conceptually grounded. From what I see, a fair amount of contemporary performance art seems to be preoccupied with the verbal sign, rather than the body and its rhythms.
     Camille Paglia offers a quasi-homeopathic explanation for this linguistic cathexis - what she might call the ‘word-fetishism of post-structuralism’. She says “Modern criticism has projected a Victorian and, I feel, Protestant high seriousness upon pagan culture.” 
She explains in her book Sexual Personae how Eastern culture espouses wholistic monism of mind and body whereas Western culture teaches dualism: “Our brains are split, and brain is split from body. The quarrel between Apollo and Dionysus is the quarrel between the higher cortex and older limbic and reptilian brains. Art reflects on and resolves the eternal human dilemma of order versus energy.”
     She concludes that western culture came to identify the highest faculties within the conscious, rationalising mind. So our fixation on the verbal sign can be seen as an intensification on one chakra point. Tantric theory holds that all of the body must be activated to function holistically. The ‘higher cortex’ of the brain is the conscious mind, but the gut or sacral chakra unlocks of the hydraulic flow of instinct and creativity, the treasure trove of the artist. [4]
  

[5]

Nauman, B.

Walk with Contrapposto (1968) video performance


I conjecture that the genre of performance art as it pertains to the Western world may have partly been borne out of the attempt to throw into dynamic relief the motionless, poised body of marble sculpture and life drawing.  [5]
The body was an object to be studied, not to work off its own script or manifest its own potentiality.





“Nauman is seen walking up and down a narrow passageway, shifting his hips back and forth with each step in an exaggerated imitation of the conventional pose of classical sculpture.” - Tedd Mann
Sol LeWitt, an American minimalist and conceptual artist says:
“when an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” 
This idea finds its ultimate origin in Descartes’ solipsism. [6]




“Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one's own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought.” This is the basis of solipsism, the idea that only the self can be known to exist.

[6]

Diagram of René Descartes ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ (I think therefore I am) epigram

[7] Exercise planes of motion
[7] Exercise planes of motion
[8] Cartesian co-ordinates
[8] Cartesian co-ordinates
     Although my film conceptually draws on my internal resources, my movements are dynamic and exploratory, expanding out towards the frontal, saggital and transversal planes [7], towards an audience, probing the universe, reality testing. 
From Cartesian thought [6] to Cartesian space. [7] [8]
To my mind, bringing the dynamism of callisthenics and gymnastics to the genre of performance art would revitalise it and inject a lot of energy back into the genre. The conscientiousness and rigour of the athlete redeems the space they take up.


As well as being a philosopher, Descartes was also a mathematician and derived his own co-ordinate system, recognisable as a simple xyz axis.
These xyz axes also map onto the frontal, saggital and transverse axes of motion, which are used to understand exercises.
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