Producers Tony Ayres and Michael McMahons three-part series, Anatomy, raises some fascinating questions about the physical body in contemporary art practice.
Each episode focuses on a particular aspect of human anatomy. In the first episode, Skin, directed by Rhys Graham, we meet 62-year-old Geoff Ostling, who has been at work on a full body tattoo for the last twenty years. He has designed his suit of transformation in collaboration with artist eX de Medici, and the result is a stunningly intricate and botanically accurate representation of an Australian native garden. The art arises from the complex and enduring relationship between Geoff and eX and their unique commitment to this project. The site of the art is Geoffs skin. As Geoff ages and confronts his own mortality, the pair must address this arts afterlife: is it finally a piece of ephemera, to exist only for the time in which Geoff himself exists? Or does their investment in this strangely haunting body art deserve preservation? There is a sense in which Geoff is prepared to render himself an object; at any rate, the process he has dedicated himself to shines an unnerving light on the slippery, visceral space between subject and object. Skin forces us to confront matters of life, death, pain and beauty. Like all of the best documentaries, it raises some challenging, thought-provoking and unsettling questions.
The second episode, Heart, explores the origins of creative inspiration. We watch artist Jacqui Stockdale embarking on another portrait of her long time muse, Rose, and as storms from the past swirl around them, we witness the changing nature of love within the artistic process. Directed by Amy Gebhardt, Heart is an observational documentary which intercuts archival and present day footage to study the artistmuse relationship within this sixteen-year-long collaboration. In following Jacquis painting, the history and nature of the womens tempestuous relationship is revealed. The artistic process maps the journey of their connection as the painting itself depicts the flaws, humour and beauty of their lives, both together and apart. Heart is an intimate insight into the power of love and the creation of art.
Directed by Natasha Gadd, the third episode, Muscle, explores the lives of the three members of nomadic performance troupe, Acrobat, as they embark on a tour of their show, Smaller Poorer Cheaper. Each of the characters reflects on their personal experiences, struggles and fears. Mozes is HIV positive and must prepare himself emotionally for the very real possibility that at some stage, despite his fierce will, courage and strength, his body may fail him. A few years ago, after snapping his Achilles tendon, Simon suffered a nervous breakdown. The fear of injury continues to haunt him. Often neglecting his bodys need to recuperate, Simon feels trapped between the competing needs of his body and mind. And Jo struggles with a host of competing demands on her body, time and emotions: to be an acrobat, to maintain her relationship with Simon, and to be a mother to their two children, Fidel and Grover. She has reached a point where she has begun to wonder if it is all sustainable and whether she must somehow reexamine her priorities.
Stripped of the usual extravagant costumes and gaudy theatricality of circus acts, the troupes acrobatic feats are often performed naked, giving audiences an intimate and unhindered look at the body under intense physical pressure. For the films audience, their nakedness is also a powerful visual metaphor for the performers vulnerabilities as they reveal their fears and anxieties. Muscle explores three key themes: the relationship between the body and art; the relationship between art and life; and the relationship between the body and mind.