Email as Body as Art

Email as Body as Art
Clayton Windatt
(Multi-Arts, Performance Art, Technology, Communications, Co-Design)

My arts and advocacy processes are acts of communication towards the world. Not necessarily identified audiences, but a planet imagined through my own artistic lens built from a summary of my experiences. This does not mean I do not identify audiences to direct works towards, but that my arts actions are always conducted in my reality, making processes acts of communication to the public through self-reflection and documentation that is casually yet consistently shared.

My arts behaviours are always adapting, even though my act of remaining adaptive is consistent. I challenge as a form of process and this critical evaluation of subject, form, and my own thought processes creates a multitude of preconceived arguments supporting my rationalization of decisions. These may be simple choices at times, while others navigate complex political and social constructs, positioning my arguments on one side or another of any given subject.

I often attempt to consider human factors and respect many viewpoints during artistic conceptualization while remaining fully aware that I cannot be anyone else, I can only empathize with other perspectives. This is crucial when considering age, history, gender, race, culture, language, relationships, ability, and many other factors that shape how we collectively and individually realize the world as many different people in proximity to each other. Navigating this terrain as an artist is complicated but making art and artistic messages that are relevant to those I care about, those that may not share parallels to my own identity, requires effective communication, care and at times translation.

My current body of work “possibilities of human intervention” addresses my fleeting hope of survival within an increasingly technology-focused world. My relationship with machines remains complicated as my arts practice spans both digital and analog technologies over many years. Devices are invented to make life easier and replace effort, yet these devices bring additional actions, requirements, and life constraints with their implied convenience.

We live in a world where technology as a tool for people has begun to dictate complicated actions and behaviours in using that tool, refocusing lives around it instead of replacing effort. Society continuously increases technological reliance, adding emphasis to technology as social constructs within everyday life. When considering increasing corporate data hoarding, file obsession, mass consumption and a volume of technological dependencies within everyday life, I question intentions and consider my proximity and relevance in this new technologically advanced world.

Through a series of temporary performance activations, I infuse, alter, or manifest machines, digital actions, and overall technological functions into my body. This disruption of instinctual function is my basic way of exploring my usefulness in a technology-centered world. One that seems to hold less space for people and the natural world and more for machines or the all-consuming pursuit of technological inclusion within all aspects of life.

Each of my performance art activations follows a specific development process as a binary path of consideration. As a basic series of prompts, one leading to the next “IDEA > QUESTION > DESIGN > DISCUSSION > REDESIGN > FABRICATION > PERFORMANCE > DOCUMENTATION > DISSEMINATION” allows for predictable actions while ensuring that process remains consistent even though each art action holds a unique series of offerings and outcomes. This consistency is key for me to establish ways of understanding and sharing moving forward.

For my first offering in “possibilities of human intervention”, I have chosen to consider communication methodologies and technologies responding to a call for submissions by SPiLL.Propagation. The call for participants had identified parameters allowing me to make work responding to both my project and theirs. The resulting performance art piece “email-courriels” became the response itself and literally took the form of my body as communication (email).

SPiLL is an organization founded by both Deaf and not-Deaf artists in an effort to decenter spoken and written languages in favour of sign languages and visual experiences. I wanted to consider my relationship to SPiLL members and make an offering of respect and care in consideration of this vision within my project, exploring and challenging my own ability and perspective through actions as communication as my body becomes technology.

I fabricated a suit from paper-based correspondences, primarily email printouts from my recycling bin and added the various arts materials provided by SPiLL’s residency program. I painted myself in an effort to show a visual aesthetic transfer between the suit and my body attempting to make them cohesive. I left my home to work in my backyard as requested by SPiLL’s call to action and because the act of communicating from one place/person to the next is the primary function of email.

My life as an arts advocate and administrator involves a great amount of reading, writing, and responding to emails as the majority of daily lived experience. I live in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario which is predominantly francophone, and SPiLL is based primarily in Quebec, so operating in both languages was a response to my home and the recipients. Emails are non-verbal in nature and responding in this way felt like a natural form of communication to have with SPiLL, especially considering I am an anglophone that does not hold the current capacity to engage in sign language. I created captioning in both French and English, adding words to the documentation to emphasize specific audio as my way of stating what was and was not present.

I drafted my email response as a clear and warm discussion between myself and the people of SPiLL and then brought that message out of my home to share with the wind, trees and birds that live outside. This transfer from my office with printed materials in hand was where the unseen performance began as the video documentation starts once I am outdoors. The video created is the outcome of the performance and has been edited for the purpose of effective sharing in digital spaces.

The presentation of speechless words being read to an outdoor space is my response to becoming technology and being the email itself, but also responding to SPiLL’s deprioritizing of auditory communications. Given more time and effort, I would rather learn sign language than make work that emphasizes non-verbal communication in general. My hope is that being respectful and showing effort as a short-term communications offering will be well received.