By Kathy Goodkin
Kathy Goodkin is a poet, musician, and editor for Gazing Grain Press whose poems and criticism can be found in Field, Denver Quarterly, RHINO, The Volta, and elsewhere. She is the author of Sleep Paralysis (dancing girl press, 2017) and can be found online at www.kathygoodkin.com. For The Body Project, Kathy Goodkin is investigating the humor BLACK BILE through poetry.
So I’m probably super late to this party, but did you know that the word “melancholy” translates to “black bile” in Greek? Literally: “melas” meaning “black” (like “melanin” and a whole host of other words that mean dark/black and come from that root) and “khole” meaning “bile.” Think about that for a moment: embedded in one of our words for sadness and/or depression is a history of Western thinking about the relationship between physical and mental health. Melancholy is simply an overabundance of black bile.
As I began writing my black-bile-inspired poem, this was what I found most fascinating. Although we might disagree about the particulars, in some ways, the ancient understanding that mental health and physical health were interrelated, were in fact the same thing, is more accurate than the concepts embraced in the past centuries of modern Western medicine.
The Cartesian duality of body and mind, that is, the idea that our minds and bodies are separate entities, is pretty much false. We know now (although clearly, many cultures already understood this) that our mental health IS physical, is the product of chemicals made by our bodies. As I read more about melancholia and the melancholic temperament, particularly its later association with artists and artistry, I began to think about musicians I love who face(d) mental health conditions. I was struck, in particular, by the way the public often represents these artists: tragic, sometimes to the point of becoming caricatures. Sometimes even laughably so. This made me so sad, the notion that we, humans who also have bodies, many of us who have also struggled with mental health, can be nearly gladiatorial in our witnessing of and recounting of others’ mental health.
I eventually settled on three musicians whose mental health issues became quite public: Amy Winehouse, Nick Drake, and Joni Mitchell. I wrote a section of my poem for each artist, using a title of one of their albums that includes a word about darkness or blackness: “Back to Black,” Black Eyed Dog,” and “Shadows and Light.” My goal in writing is not to romanticize, but to humanize, to compel a consideration of the actual, physical body of each of these beautiful human beings, and the legacy of work that their bodies left us.
By Brie Klein-Fowler
Brie is a therapist and new mom of two in Greensboro. For the Body Project, Brie is artistically investigating the humor BLOOD.
"Me? You want me to contribute a piece of artwork to your project? Surely you have me mistaken with someone else, anyone else."
Nope, she was talking to me. My amazingly talented friend was asking little ol' me to contribute a piece to her show. Cue me feeling way out of my league!
Me and art have a complicated relationship. Yup, click that button on Facebook, there's no other way to describe it.
As a child of an extremely artistic mother, I was always provided with art supplies and encouragement to create. In Kindergarten I even had a piece shown at a local art gallery (portrait of a windmill in ripped paper. It was a colorful mix of abstract, landscape, and wishful thinking). That marked the apex in my art career. My mother eased off of pushing for me to be a visual artist and instead worked to nurture my dance and music expression. To say it didn't go well would be an understatement. She wisely switched to allowing me and my left brain to run free, and hung all her right brained hopes on my brother. I think we were both considerably relieved.
In high school I decided to pursue photography and was so unbelievably bad that I still remember my kind hearted teacher's notations on my image: "Hi, Brie....Boy, you tried hard, didn't you? But the subject is bloodless and your negative was so dirty I can't really see the image that well. C+"
Devastated, I resolved never to attempt to create a piece from scratch ever again. If I felt the spark of creativity, I would collage and ultimately learned to knit, but never dared to start with a blank space and fill it only with my own brushstrokes or ideas. I experimented with scrapbooking in college before settling down with knitting as an adult. Knitting has been a safe, stable partner ever since. Not too dynamic, but reliable to settle my mind and help me through tough times.
So when my friend asked me to contribute to her project, my first instinct was first scoff, then create a Brie-shaped dust cloud in the other direction. But I stayed. Perhaps it is my people-pleasing manner, but I agreed. Haunted by my high school professor's declaration that my work was once "bloodless," how interesting to be given the prompt of "Sanguine." As a therapist, I know how beneficial it can be to embrace the very thing that has haunted me for so long, so I did it.
I can't say that I'm in love with what I have done, but I am in love with the fact that I did it. All the prompts reminded me of my new baby girl, so she is the subject. I spent lots of time just layering bits and bobs from my "It's Complicated" relationship with art. Her skirt is layers of ripped paper in a nod to my first art show. Her top and flower crown are leftovers from my brief dalliance with scrapbooking. Her belt is a quick cable knit that I actually made first as a warm up to get myself comfortable with creating. Her picture itself is probably off center and too fuzzy, but my subject definitely isn't bloodless.
I have already found that this has led to more invigoration and lively curiosity. Just yesterday I felt compelled to scour magazines like I did as a teenager and whipped up a quick collage in about an hour that is just about as interesting as the portrait I worked on for weeks. And I loved it. I stayed up late to work on it. I had to force myself to stop.
By Vicki King
Victoria (Vicki) King has created commissioned artwork in the Triad for more than 22 years. In the past, she been an associate at Artmongerz, has had gallery shows here and New Mexico and Florida.
As an artist, I wished to understand the composition of phlegm and how to portray it as an expression of my art.
I found, phlegm is dependent on climate, genetics and the immune system of the individual producing it from their respiratory system. One way this water based gel can be brought on, is by stressing our vocal cords. This can happen by yelling, screaming, talking loudly or just singing incorrectly. We humans vary greatly in so many ways and we express ourselves uniquely, based on, not solely, but on all the elements, that describe Phlegm.
Despite our differences, we ALL need to rid ourselves of phlegm. I see the expression of one’s bodily fluids to be as colorful as the lives we lead, and as a result of the elements of the universe we choose to assimilate. So to me phlegm can be a form of individual expression to be celebrated. This specific expression, needs to be expelled in order to allow a healthy, thriving, colorful existence with our universe.
(Pictured above: 1 of 18 pieces that make up Vicki's piece, "Phlegm." See the complete piece this Friday, March 2 at Greensboro Project Space. More info here.)
Judith Glazier is a High Point artist who paints in watercolors, acrylics, and oils. Offering vibrant colors and impressionistic movement, her paintings enhance private collections in the US and Europe.
My humor was Yellow Bile / Choleric, with characteristics like hot, dry, fire, summer, vengeful, destructive, daring, imaginative, and youthful. After mulling over all these words, I decided on a painting I've titled "Fire Breather." It's acrylic paint on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.
I've attached photos of the painting in progress. Each other photo is marked from 1 (a pencil drawing on the canvas) to 5 (mostly done except the face) as it gets closer to the finished version.
Janay is a vocalist and artist, mostly sketching and experimenting with color in her free time. She currently works as a paraprofessional for teens with severe autism and enjoys sharing her love of music and art with her students. For The Body Project she is artistically investigating the humor BLOOD.
No matter how hard I tried to expand with this humor and think outside of my usual nailed together box, I continue to think of blood as a beautiful life source for energy. Energy and fluidity for dancing, movement, and passion. Energy for living. “What grows from energy?” I ask myself literally and figuratively. I think of flowers, fast and flowing movements, awakening, heart beats, passion, all stemming from a source of energy. I think and express in black in white and look at how to use personal expression to turn it into color.
A few weeks ago, I reached out to my friend Dana Whitt to help me express and expand on this idea. The amazing thing is while I was drafting and thinking in black and white, beauty and concrete imagery, she was thinking in abstract color! Exploring this humor and these ideas with her have been both challenging and inspiring.
In the above sketches, I was expressing the humors that spoke to me. Exposing parts of the body that I believe the humor of blood effects most. Like the chest where the heart is - a source of life. And and a young woman's back, which reflects youth. These are just two body parts represented. We settled on four.
I am excited for our two artistic personalities to mesh into one expressive form and to share it with the city, family, and friends.
Tori Stern is an actor, playwright, and drama teacher. She leads M.A.T.T. in Greensboro, and as part of the Body Project she has been theatrically investigating MELANCHOLY. With the Body Project performance and exhibition only days away, Tori shared where she started in her process, to share her sweet little idea cloud.
More about the performance this Friday, March 2 at Greensboro Project Space HERE.
Julie Hughes is a writer and developmental psychologist. For the Body Project, Julie is creating a piece of music for YELLOW BILE.
Cellos are the best, right? Cello players can set any mood--bombastic, lovelorn, ethereal… You name it; we do it. I love playing my instrument for that reason.
I especially love playing in an orchestra, where we cellos can make all this happen en masse. Conductors know that we’re the private divas of the ensemble. They turn to the cellos and instruct us on a particular effect to produce, and we preen under the attention in rehearsal.
“Cellos! In this section, I need you to be - you know - ” And the conductor waves her arms over her head like fronds of kelp undulating in a current. “Can you do that?”
Yeah. We can. On to the next one.
“Now cellos, you get the melody here, but don’t over play it, like you’re - ” Her arms cradle an invisible baby. “Like you’re setting down your sleeping newborn, okay? Don’t wake it up! As gentle as you can. You know?”
Yep. We do. What else you got?
“Okay. At the start of this movement, cellos, you really gotta be -” Now her shoulders square, her fist hits her open palm, and she grunts. “Attack it, you know? Make us run for cover. Will you try that?”
Um. I’ll let the others take that one.
I mean, I know the musical vocabulary of anger. It’s dissonant, percussive, probably in a minor key, and unrelenting. It screams and it growls. I’ve heard it. I understand it. A cello can do this.
But, see, usually mine doesn’t. I’m most comfortable spinning out a melody like a spider web--glossy, twanging with vibrato, and pliable. This matches my personality.
And yet here I am producing a piece for The Body Project on my designated body humor: Yellow Bile. The root of anger, vengeance, and determination. All coming from me: composer and performer.
So… so… let’s talk about anger and vengeance. Let’s find that place inside Julie. Mm… Not easy. I’ve been raised to be sweet and forgiving. I love that about myself, in fact. I’ll say it: I’m not an angry person. Instead I’m self deprecating… a nervous laugher… one who seeks hugs under stress.
But now it’s time to get pissed! With my cello!
At first I think I don’t have the tools, fingers in the right shape, muscles with the right memory to conjure Yellow Bile with a cello. I resist it like crazy, telling myself all the reasons Yellow Bile is the worst humor, the most destructive, the one I least want to embody.
And yet I go to work.
I come up with a few themes, toy around with piecing them together, and… I feel like a failure. I just can’t make anger with my cello. My version of Yellow Bile sounds shrill, annoying, and to be frank, very out of tune. It reminds me of how I feel when I express my own anger: hideous, laughable, and impotent. I’m the worst image of an angry woman. So for a while I don’t want to perform this piece that I’ve made for anyone. I work on it, but I don’t want to share it.
But no act exists in a vacuum. Every day I am reminded of corruption and injustice. So I keep playing out my anger. I need to play it out. It feels so good. But… still, not for an audience. It just isn’t ready. Angry Julie isn’t presentable, not even when she’s hiding behind her cello.
This begins to change at the sentencing of what’s his name - Larry Nassar. I see brave women speak out against him. They do! It’s astounding - humbling - and it galvanizes my broken heart.
Does something change for you then, too? Do you begin to feel more comfortable with the sound of your wrath?
We all have a right to anger. We all need our Yellow Bile.
Even people like me, who shrink from anger, must harness it sometimes. Things happen to us that shouldn’t. And we need retribution. My anger is real, even if it doesn’t sound the way I think anger should sound. It isn’t coherent or logical. It’s repetitive and jarring and maybe even unpersuasive.
But it’s just as real and pure as anyone else’s anger. And so, I will share it.
We’ll see if anyone runs for cover.
Cari A. Hopson
Cari A. Hopson is a writer, director, and amateur filmmaker (See Jane Shoot Films). For The Body Project, Cari is creating a new piece investigating BLACK BILE.
Having been a part of a few of Storyhound Theater’s productions, I was intrigued when asked to participate in The Body Project, especially in the form of film which is my true passion but something I don’t get to do enough of. Not knowing much about the project other than that it is based on the four humours of the body (phlegm, black bile, yellow bile, and blood), I attended the kickoff where we were to draw which humour we would be working with. When presented with the four cards from which to choose, I hesitated a bit to see if any of them called to me. And one did….black bile, associated with the melancholic temperament. I was pretty excited as this is the humour I most associate with in a personal and creative sense and was what I had secretly hoped to draw.
Before I embark on any creative endeavor, I thoroughly research my subject, cramming every little bit of knowledge I can into my brain and using that to map out what I want to convey through imagery or words. My research on melancholia revealed just why I connect so strongly to this particular temperament. I’m certainly no stranger to melancholic feelings; I’ve suffered from severe depression since my pre-teen days, escalating to suicidal ideation in my early 20’s. It wasn’t until I was 25 that I was properly diagnosed as bipolar, a mental illness that perfectly encapsulates the melancholic temperament.
“Melancholies have a very sensitive emotional nature; feelings dominate their being. Sometimes moods will lift them to extreme highs; at other times they will be gloomy and depressed.”
In reading further about the characteristics of melancholics, I discovered more similarities to my own personality:
“The defining feature of a melancholic attitude is perfectionism. Their generally dour demeanour comes from their inner struggle between an imperfect world and a desire for perfection. Many melancholics wish to learn and to understand, to know the details of every little thing, because to be ignorant is to stray from perfection. Their interests and tastes are picked carefully, and they give a lot of attention to each one, and hold them close to their hearts, rather than having many fleeting interests that change quickly and often. Melancholics are very emotional. They are moved deeply by beauty, and by distress. They are very easily hurt, because of their perfectionistic tendencies.”
Yep, this describes me perfectly. But being a melancholie isn’t entirely bad. There are several good things about this temperament as well. Melancholics are very empathetic and creative individuals, often releasing their emotions through some sort of art. In fact, physicians in the 17th century believed in treating melancholia through the practice of dance and song. My creativity has always been like a life line to me in my struggles with mental illness and played a crucial role in my eventual emotional healing. At age 34, I finally learned to love myself as I was (certainly not perfect but that is ok by me) and take control over my illness. A whole world of beauty and excitement opened up to me and even though the bottom still drops out on me at times as I continue to cycle through moods, I know what I’m fighting for: that profound feeling of peace and contentment in life as it is.
These are the feelings and emotions I want to capture in my work. Not just the sadness and despair of melancholia but also, the deep feelings of happiness and appreciation for life. I want to give the message that healing is possible. As I’m a very visual person, images were already popping into my head. After finding a music track that encapsulated each of the emotions I wanted to convey, I was able to visualize more content and begin putting together a loose narrative and thematic elements. Listening to the song over and over helped me make some final decisions on imagery and develop a shot list, based on the three distinct parts of the song. From there, I put together a shooting script to organize the shots and maximize my production time. Once the shoot is completed, the shot list will help me organize the various elements during editing. At the end, I’ll have a four minute short film for my contribution to the Body Project.
Coming up with a title for this little work of art was the easy part. ‘Expunged’ means “to strike out, erase, obliterate, to efface, wipe out, or destroy”.
I can’t wait to present it to the world on March 2nd and see what my fellow artists have produced.
By Kerri Mubaarak
Kerri is managing artistic director of Scrapmettle in Greensboro. Scrapmettle is theatrically investigating their drawn humor - BLOOD - for The Body Project.
This is a short montage filmed by Brian Gregory that features the opening monologue (written by Tomeka Collins) of our piece, Bloods.
Scrapmettle puts our finishing touches on Bloods, the performance we're writing for Storyhound's The Body Project. The poem heard in the foreground written by Tomeka Collins is the opening monologue that foretells the birth of a child, born of blood into a family of gang members. Based on a true story, Bloods looks at the subject from three angles--medical, physical and symbolic--during a "day in the life" of the expecting mother who is shot by a rival gang member.
The script for Storyhound Theatre's The Body Project is finished and we're heading into rehearsal phase.
Filmed here: Kerri Mubaarak, Ingram Bell, Tomeka Collins, Adrian Quarles, Ambria Webster, Mandy Messina (guest artist) and Angela Williams Tripp.