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The Body as a Vessel

by Francesca Pavone 17 December 2020

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Francesca Pavone, Mother - Installation Detail, Plaster Cast

Last year I had the opportunity to explore the concept of the body as a vessel in my Foundation Year final major project at The Royal Drawing School. Despite my recurring interest in the human form, I had never delved into the topic before. While my interest may have stemmed from an innate corporeal instinct, it was the experience of being close to my mother during lockdown that allowed me to observe, encounter, comprehend and contemplate this topic in greater depth. In this precious window of time, I saw my mother not only as a person but also as a maternal body that gave birth to me and my two sisters. It was, undoubtedly, a unique and personal journey that I undertook in this project. I now feel connected to my mother in a completely different way by translating the intangible into the tangible and creating a visual vocabulary that reflected us and our bonding.

Drawing upon my mother’s body allowed me to thoroughly explore the concept of the body as a vessel. Alternating between materials and media allowed me to wholly explore motherhood through the art forms of video, photography, sculpture, casts, drawings, paintings and prints that together presented a different impression of my mother and her body. I was particularly interested in how the body serves as a container of human life, or a miracle often overlooked. I was inspired by the tactility and fleshiness of The Venus of Willendorf, John Coplans’ self-portrait photographs exploring his body and Anna Maria Maiolino’s reflection on the interconnections between herself, her mother and her daughter in Por Um Fio.

The final installation of this project encompassed a video I made of my mother’s body depicting her experience of being a daughter, becoming a mother and, finally, losing her mother prematurely. I also created three casts of my mother’s bust to immortalise the act of breastfeeding, cradling and bearing children. One such example is displayed through a sculpture of her three grown daughters’ hands resting on her (now flat) stomach. The installation is a truthful enquiry of motherhood as I interpret it. The video is composed of two parts; the first being extreme close-up shots that methodically map my mother’s body to the extent that it is pushed to abstraction, and the second being audio fragments from my interview with her. I mimicked the fragmented and abstracted shots by stripping down our dialogue to her most essential phrases and remarks. This resulted in a slow unravelling of contemplative images and words. While I am aware that I have attempted to grasp something that is beyond my capabilities, I feel that through the process, my filial bond has grown stronger and I am more sympathetic and grateful towards my mother.

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