Josée Aubin Ouellette: The Skinny Showcase
Josée Aubin Ouellette is a Canadian artist, from Edmonton, Alberta, living in Glasgow, where she graduated with an MFA from the GSA in 2012.
Upcoming projects: UK premiere screening of experimental collaborative film Prospecthills with Erik Osberg, at the CCA Cinema, Glasgow, 16 May, 7pm, free event.
Mineral Supplements, a performance, ceramics residency, and group show at SWG3 in October 2016 with Jennifer Bailey, Aideen Doran, Suzanne Déry, Lauren Hall, and Claire Shallcross.
Welcome to Body Blocks… greets you as you walk through the hall and into the vaulted space of the Govanhill Baths Ladies' Pool. There’s a mortuary chill, a distinct temperature drop as you enter, but the music reverberating off the walls makes it seem a bit warmer. The space has a ceramic, wood and concrete palate of white, red and blue. The cool sunlight filters in through the cracked glass ceiling. You become conscious of preserving your own body heat. Please remove your shoes and try to get comfortable, says the singing voice. It’s a clear but imprecise instruction. You obey, sitting down to remove your shoes poolside on a familiar skim-milk-coloured plastic bench. This position will be your intermission. The architecture, too, is silently instructional.
I offer you a hot water bottle and some slippers, in case you get cold. You shuffle down the black theatre stairs onto the slick bleached tiles of the empty pool, assessing the work. An exercise class? Mom and baby yoga? Mindfulness workshop? Erotic hospice?
The next track begins with a drone, then a heartbeat pulse comes from the speaker box. Talk to me… let me hear your body talk...
You settle into a reclining position on a kidney-shaped piece of foam. Did you just get a text message? You can almost see your breath when you exhale. I bring you a blue moving blanket and say, in a semi-rehearsed tone that originally I wanted to use electric blankets but it wasn’t allowed for health and safety reasons. Even though the pool is empty, we couldn’t write it as a sentence in the risk assessment report.
Please consider your contact surfaces. Remember… this is a material cuddle. The material is re-bonded high-density foam. Small bits of different colours are glued and pressed together in a giant mould. Its beauty is incidental. With articulate formal integrity, it is what it is – brute and seductive, malleable yet supportive, surface and substance. When you hold it, it holds back. This stuff and your stuff… all thinking, feeling, and doing the same thing.
You adjust your position, reaching for a nearby U-shaped block and placing it behind your head. The same reverberating drone sound returns, and you wonder about the music. This one is a lover’s lamentation. Baby please put your phone down… I know you’re there next to me, your body is mine, but your mind is away… so please, bring them back to me, your body your mind, your mind and your body, cause your mind’s online baby.
I was going to make a straight voice track based on mindfulness apps, but it turned into pop music. It’s 13 tracks, 50 minutes long. I’m not sure if it’s an album, though I’ve called it Electric Blanket. I’ve never made music before. Yes, it’s me singing.
Everybody’s Anxious… it’s a common condition, and we want our bodies back. Three people walk in and join you on the mats. You don’t have to say anything. You’ve merged with the blocks. Relaxed. The pool’s social code of conduct is in place. You give each other space. The other anxious bodies become soothing scenery in this communal pool.
Oh, I’m a supine figure, oh I’m a deep consumer… in this age of self-devotion, I’m afraid to be a part of the material world. The most disturbing thought of them all is that maybe I’m not exceptional.
There’s a blend of passivity and resistance in the music and in the exercise of finding perfect shapes to hold your body relaxed. It’s a mix of sympathy and social critique.
Do you feel better now from looking at the pictures? Aspire. Aspire. Lifestyle celebrities. Wellness pornography. Our bodies are better.
I see that your legs are not supported and come put the widest cylinder under your knees. Better or worse, I ask. Better, you respond.
Touching…. interactive… surfaces. You are connected… like skin on skin…
The group of three are posing for photos, posting on Instagram, #bodyblocks.
Text massage, text massage, emotional labour… what’s on your mind, what’s on your mind… feminised labour… scrolling through likes and loves.
Pigeons flap their wings loudly, and land high in the red concrete arches above you. You notice one of their poops on the ground next to your foot.
I just can’t concentrate. I just can’t focus on one thing at a time… oh. I want to make you feel better. I can’t concentrate either.
As you leave, you ask if I choose the location. Yes. Was the work made for the space? It works with the space, connecting with the function of the pool, using its emptiness and coping with the cold.
Paying with our bodies, paying with our minds. What’s the illness? Self-help, self-check-out. You hide it well, but you’re not okay.
It’s a community centre. Under one roof, there are several groups that meet for cooking classes, socialist choir, clothes up-cycling, theatre rehearsals, music video shoots, interactive children’s theatre. Today, when I go into the kitchen to refill hot water bottles, I listen avidly to a group of women meeting to talk about stigmas around breastfeeding.
I have spent seven hours a day here for eighteen days. I am singing along to my own music while typing this self-review on my smartphone because my laptop is busted.
Try again, it’s not your fault, it’s the system, just keep on trying. Go on and love yourself, it’s not taboo and we can help you.