29.08.2020 | Words by Hannah Pezzack
This conversation initially took place in March, in a pre-pandemic time that feels like a lifetime ago. Realised during their residency at De School, Fleshquake is a video project by artists Greta Desirèe Facchinato and Raquel Sánchez Gálvez. Now on show as part of the DE TOUR, the work explores freedom of movement, beauty ideals and Western notions of normality and decency. Dancers wear tailor-made costumes with cosmetic implants constructed of Agar Agar, a biodegradable gelatine sourced from seaweed. On-screen in Het Kunstlokaal, they perform a hypnotically intimate choreography.
Q: How did the project come about?
A: Fleshquake began as an idea around two years ago when we were at an artist’s residency in Scotland. It was in the middle of nowhere in a castle, such a beautiful location but also very overwhelming. We share a background in movement, and every day we would stretch and dance a little. It was very playful. These movements lead to conversations about how the body is represented in the media – how it “should” move according to dominant trends…. Specific movements, the pressure to dress a certain way or how we assume the presence of a spectator. It seems that there is always an assumption that we are being watched. Within contemporary Western society, there is a specific, standardised idea of beauty that dictates how a feminine body should be. The role of cosmetic surgery also came into play and the idea of creating prosthetics for breasts and buttocks. This led to research into silicon. But we weren’t very comfortable with the material.
Q: Oh really? What was the problem with silicon?
A: It didn’t behave like we wanted and felt a little bit toxic – we’re very sensitive haha! Our projects involve a lot of research – both theoretical and into the materials. The more we thought about using silicon, the more we felt that we were just reproducing, not anything new to the research. So what happens if a different material is used? Something that is organic and that behaves in a different way. gelatine was a substance that came to mind so we experimented with different kinds until arriving at Agar Agar or seaweed gelatine. It looks very much like silicon when it solidifies. A series of investigations through performances followed that connected the material to the senses. The gelatine was used to make sounds, we ate it and made a video responding to it through touching.
Q: When I think about silicone, another property is that it’s so durable. It can’t break down because it has to stay intact in the body.
A: Yes, silicone is something that sticks around for a very, very long time. But Agar Agar gelatine is organic. It’s also very fragile, more like the structure of a human body. It can break, leak, be made softer, tighter, almost like muscle or fat or a concentration of fat. It’s constitution opened up this question of vulnerability, allowing us to think about the body as fragile.
Q: Does the material itself then become a stand-in for the body, as a way to understand the body as vulnerable or permeable?
A: In contemporary Western society, there is this idea that the body should be plastic, fit and tight. And yes, it can be this way. But it can also be fragile, and soft. Part of the artwork is about fictionalising these contrasts between soft and hard, female and male. In the video, there are three performers – two women and one man – but you almost never see their face so their gender is hard to recognise. There are just the bodies moving, almost becoming one mass.
Q: And moving past a binary?
These opposites of control and letting go, soft and fit or sculptured are certainly something we want to play with. The artwork appears as if it were a video clip or music video with a catchy track. Although, the setting is completely different and so is the editing. In some scenes, the camera lingers longer than it should do, so it feels out of sync. Usually, in a film everything comes with the change of the music – that’s when the action occurs. Fleshquake both captures this and moves outside of that format. There’s friction.
Q: You mentioned before about cosmetic surgery. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that informs your work?
A: An important aspect for us is that the project is not criticising anyone who has surgery, nor is it a critique of that industry. When the prosthetics break, for instance, that’s not us creating a narrative that plastic surgery is wrong. It looks like something very intimate, like when you touch your own body in a private space. It’s an opening up of a topic or a specific question of beauty, of how beauty is idolised. There is certainly an element of metamorphosis; the ability or fantasy of changing one’s body and becoming something else. For example, we played a lot with close-ups of the performers, so their torsos and the costumes appear like faces. It’s about creating a transformation towards something that becomes unrecognisable as a human body.
Q: Other than advertisements and music videos, what other kinds of sources did you draw upon?
A: We read a lot, especially the work of Susan Bordo. And any kind of dance especially homemade videos that are posted on Instagram of people doing short routines. An artwork that was of especial interest for us was Alexandra Pirici’s series of performances Delicate Instruments Handled With Care. In particular, the piece where she recreates the video of ‘Drunk in Love’ by Beyonce that features repetitive, sensual movements on the beach. Pirici does this choreography, but in the context of a demonstration-lecture in front of a public. This raw setting basically transforms the lyrics of the song and makes them a little bit ridiculous. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch. The beautiful, sensual element isn’t there anymore. For Fleshquake, we were interested in how the setting or the context can change the meaning, and this is why it's a video, not a live performance. Video creates this separation or disillusion. A body becomes more of an object, less of a raw being. That’s also where the interest in the flesh or the grotesque comes in.
Q: How have people reacted to it?
A: People seem to find it both disturbing and intimate. We think it can be confronting, but that’s an interesting component.
Q: What does the title refer to?
A: We played with combining different words – an earthquake came to mind as a destructive but natural force. That’s why ‘fleshquake’, meaning a quiver or tremble of the flesh.