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29 Aug

How Kathy Acker’s bodybuilding fuelled her raucous art

How Kathy Acker’s bodybuilding fuelled her raucous art

The mind and body are sometimes regarded as separate, even opposing, entities. But for writers like Acker and Eileen Myles, exercise and movement change into powerful aids within the creation of their art

The caricatured image of an artist doesn’t typically involve a Schwarzenegger-esque physique. But buff artists do exist. American author Kathy Acker, a raucous avant-garde superstar carved with muscles, was certainly one of them. For her, bodybuilding was a strategy to play with identity and a mechanism to reconcile physical and mental pursuits. 

In a world that increasingly devalues embodied practices in favour of digital interactions and virtual experiences, we have gotten ever more distanced from our own physicality and, in consequence, our own person. “In our culture, we concurrently fetishise and disdain the athlete, a employee within the body,” Acker wrote. “For we still live under the sign of Descartes. This sign can also be the sign of patriarchy. So long as we proceed to treat the body, that which is subject to alter, probability, and death, as disgusting and inimical, so long we could proceed to treat our own selves as dangerous others.” 

In light of this, arguments that emphasise the coextensive nature of mind and body, that promote unity through physical movement, are all of the more pressing. Acker’s investigation of bodybuilding pushes back against prevailing notions of a mind-body dichotomy, and thru her work we are able to reclaim an overall well-being enabled by holistic (physical and cerebral) gains.

Acker first began to know the worth of exercise in Simone Forti’s postmodern dance workshops. Energised by dance, within the early 80s she joined a gym (like many Latest Yorkers). An instructor showed her learn how to lift weights. Later, she booked sessions with pioneering female bodybuilder and Robert Mapplethorpe muse, Lisa Lyon. Soon, she was on the gym three out of each 4 days.

As Acker delved further into the gym, bodybuilding grew into an art project. Encouraged by forerunners like jacked author Yukio Mishima – whose bodybuilding and martial arts book, Sun and Steel, she revered – she crafted an inventive case for weightlifting. “Like Mishima,” writes Jason Mcbride in his 2022 Acker biography, Eat Your Mind, “Acker believed that bodybuilding opened up recent ways of fascinated with language and knowledge. Or, more precisely, a strategy to learn things without, or regardless of, peculiar language and expression.” 

But, for Acker, writing about what she was experiencing within the gym wasn’t easy. She knew she was immersed in a wealthy and sophisticated world but her body held out against peculiar language. “What does language in that place appear to be?” she wondered. “What actually takes place once I bodybuild?” 

“Bodybuilding is a process, perhaps a sport, by which an individual shapes her or his own body,” noted Acker. Yet, a bodybuilder isn’t an “athlete” in the normal sense as form is privileged over function. Due to aesthetic preferences and sculptural sensibilities, bodybuilding can offer a revealing glimpse into the links between art and exercise – two ostensibly disparate worlds which can be actually filled with overlaps. 

Steadily, as these overlaps got here into focus, Acker recognised that weightlifting generates a language of its own, certainly one of the body. The end result was her 1993 essay, “Against Atypical Language: The Language of the Body”. The seminal text posits that bodybuilding can act as an entry point to grasping essential mind-body connections that may aid with art-making. “Intensity times movement of maximum weight equals muscular destruction (muscular growth).” Acker writes. “Is bodybuilding’s equation between destruction and growth also a formula for art?”

With this in mind, are creativity and imagination “muscles” that may be exercised and developed? “Totally,” poet Eileen Myles, tells Dazed. “In the identical way that confidence is entirely about repetition, what I find out about writing and making art is that you’ll want to appear at the positioning of the work and dive in almost day by day to make something recent. It’s the important thing to pleasure in art making too. Doing more is more fun.” 

“In the identical way that confidence is entirely about repetition, writing and making art is [about appearing] at the positioning of the work and diving in almost day by day to make something recent” – Eileen Myles

“Bodybuilding in addition to yoga and dog walking force respiratory and breath is correct in the course of all of it,” Myles adds. “Also the time spent doing such practices is unimportant because what’s essential is the breath and subsequently you breathe the work too. And the breath is more essential than that as well.” Here, a line penned by Acker involves mind: “Meaning approaches breath as I bodybuild, as I begin to maneuver through the body’s labyrinths, to fulfill, if just for a second, that which my consciousness ordinarily cannot see.” 

Jonny Negron, an artist whose work explores themes of eroticism and nightlife, expands on this thought. “Artistically I even have at all times been drawn to figuration, to ascertain the body itself as a vehicle to imbue with deeper meaning. Naturally, anatomy and bodybuilding fascinates me.” In his own holistic approach to creativity, Negron says he believes in a balance of mind, body and spirit. “I do practise various callisthenics, in addition to yogic exercise. It’s difficult to trace exactly what might trigger inspiration, reasonably, I’d say there are cumulative experiences that function puzzle pieces that encourage an idea. I aim to live my life as an extension of my artistic practice, to be receptive to any signs or messengers who appear at any moment.” Here, physicality becomes an extension of an inventive practice, and like Acker’s, Negron’s all-encompassing approach closes the divide between mind and body.

Closing their very own divide, Eileen Myles illustrates further. “I prefer to take pictures, and in my writing shack the opposite day I saw a part of my legs on this antique barber’s mirror that’s nailed to the wall,” they are saying. “In it, [I saw] my very own thighs in vivid red orange shorts and I did squats and [I saw] the blue sky with a tree running through it for a speck in an upper rectangular window and I wanted that picture a lot. The composition was so perfect and I couldn’t take it.”

Poetically squatting of their writing shack, Myles is bridging the gap between art and exercise very like Acker was in a Manhattan gym. Strengthened by physical exertion, we are able to learn, grow and construct beyond the bounds of peculiar language. By plunging into bodily movement, one can unlock a world of haptic knowledge. Acker writes: “By trying to regulate, to shape, my body through the calculated tools and methods of bodybuilding, and again and again, in following these methods, failing to achieve this, I’m capable of meet that which can’t be finally controlled and known: the body.” 

Above all, by digging into Acker’s engagement with bodybuilding and the insights of other artists, the various advantages of embodied practices can begin to be unearthed; it becomes clear that weightlifting (and exercise usually) can improve strength and quality of life, but additionally align the mind and body. The point is, it’s not a waste of time to maneuver. Getting buff in a single’s own individual ways can enable makers and their muscles to higher connect with themselves and their work – similar to Kathy Acker did.

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