Overspill 2007- Mary- Eve Bonneau ‘Body is the first word I say’

Image: SPILL Festival presents Eve Bonneau in '"Body" is the first word I say'

Eve Bonneau is naked in an alcove, her eyes shut and a single, white bulb hanging from a mike stand in front of her body. We are in one of the smaller rooms in Shunt Vaults, a dirty cave where this strange, naked woman stands like an altar statue, seemingly unaware of the gathering crowd around her. The publicity material that accompanies Eve Bonneau’s piece says she ‘explores her body with the eyes of a child’. A simple premise, but the result is more complex – and more beautiful – than you might think.

Moving the bulb around her body, Bonneau makes dramatic shapes with the bright white light and deepest shadow. It’s the only light source in the room, and its power makes parts of her seem as if they have disappeared altogether: now the ridges on her neck make a disembodied pipe, now the curves of her breasts make a beheaded bust. She turns around and lets us see the shapes thrown up by her back, moving tentatively around the bulb until she touches it, and jerks sharply away.

It’s hard to believe these beautiful shapes have not been carefully choreographed, but the idea is so simple, and Bonneau’s own gaze so intent, that is feels like we’re all taking part in a genuine discovery. And we’re discovering the power of the light as much as of the shapes it reveals. At one point, Bonneau turns out the lamp and the viewers, plunged into darkness, scramble from their hastily kneeled positions ready to follow where she’ll go next. She switches the light back on – she’s only moved a couple of feet.

The next section of the show relies on the strength of a slide projector to distort Bonneau’s shadow through a white sheet. Her body billows and rolls, at times silhouetted in perfect clarity and at times blown up like a fairy tale monster. Fantasy seems closely linked to discovery - the body both a real, physical object and the ephemeral representation of a playful mind. We, the audience, are free to overlay our own explanations for this magic.

Bonneau continues to work with the slide projector, moving under the image of a giant eye and showing close ups of herself prodding her own body. Unfortunately, at this point I was frustrated by other bodies – those of the audience. We were a larger crowd than had been anticipated, and whole swathes of the performance were invisible to me as I gazed at the backs of peoples’ heads. We were all so transfixed in the exploration of someone else’s body, we had forgotten to admit the consequences of our own bodies in space. Shuffling around in the dark, we bumped into each other silently, tripped over each other and blocked one another’s’ views of the focus of our attention.

Bonneau’s performance draws to a close with the artist lying prostrate under a red lamp as it is lowered towards her body. As it gets closer, the light flattens the contrasts in her figure, and returns it to the sculptural, fleshy form we saw at the start. But by now, we have a whole new understanding of what the body means and does. Often ‘the eyes of a child’ can be overrated, but in this case they served us well.

Mary Paterson

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