Body as domus – Interview to Isobel Blank

by Alessandro Trabucco

Sophisticated and versatile, Isobel Blank’s research beautifully represents the complexity of the contemporary artistic expression, using as first and principal medium her body, inexhaustible source of thoughts, emotions and anxieties.
The artist confronts herself with the outside world by a personal interpretation, in a complete physical and emotional engagement, as to make perfectly correspond the creative range with her daily past.

When and how arises Isobel Blank as an artist?

The name of Isobel Blank started to sign my works since 2006, but if you mean when did I begin to translate reality by my means – as I love to define what I do — we need to go back to my childhood/adolescence. My first ways to express myself were drawing, dance, music and theatre. I remember with fun one of the first episodes, a comics workshop with Cavazzano when I was 11 years old. I tried to learn as much as I could, confronting myself with more or less “academic” contexts such as for example the venetian Academy of dramatic art, or the International Institute of Commedia dell’Arte, beyond the various schools and workshops of dance — from classical to contemporary and to dance-theatre. I worked hard, in constant devotion for all the disciplines I followed, together with my ordinary educational training process, living days that in my mind I probably made last for more than 24 hours. Everything was combined with a strong influence of self-education, that I consider as an important part of my personal and professional development and growth, and a too often under estimated element.

Which are the principal themes you deal with in your artistic research?

My work comes from an interior need, from the appeal that the wonder of daily life has always had on my eyes, from a need to observe, analyze and filter everything’s surrounding me. A tendency that I followed and fully realized also through my philosophical/aesthetic university studies. I try to answer to this question, even if I am deeply convinced that my works, once completed or even if left unfinished, have an autonomous life, an independent thinking and a personal language to communicate with the viewers.
At this point of my research, I guess that maybe my attempt to bring what is most intimate and “domestic” to a universal level is something evident to the public. My research mainly appears as visionary and surreal but it takes the body as its core and point of departure. The body becomes the filter that highlights the inner aspects of human beings and their poetics: I think there is a continuous exchange and correspondence between humans and the outside world, both if universally or particularly considered as nature or a limited everyday space. More than the focus on the self-representation, that characterizes my works, also the theme of collective and individual memory assumes a significant role.

In which way?

Since I was born I often travelled, I changed different towns and houses. Frequent relocations constantly mean to decide what to throw away and what to keep. The journeys to go back to my native region, tuscany, were periodic and rather long. From this came my absence of roots, my lack of a geographic belonging. No place means home to me, no place means something so intimate and stable. This sense of dispersion brought me to self-identify as my unique house, my unique locus. In my body I feel the embrace of the walls, the surfaces scarred by time. In myself I keep all my memories, together with all their dust. Within myself the black lines of a pen tell to the white wall that I’m growing.
Sartre said: “You don’t put your past in your pocket; you have to have a house. I have only my body: a man entirely alone, with his lonely body, cannot indulge in memories; they pass through him”. In absence of a domestic space, memory is the only way to save the integrity of an identity. Within myself, this horror oblivionis (terror of oblivion) appeared in the care and overbearing presence of the mindful element of the body, an active symbol in my life and in my work: physical memory partially and temporarily lives in the hair.
As I got adult, even if I still find it hard to define myself in this way, it emerged so clearly and tidily the sensation to be in myself the place to go back to and at the same time a moving wholeness. The concept of “domus” corresponds to my body and it’s fed by my physicality.

Performance art is preponderant in your research, a sort of dance-theatre act where you build moments of great emotional tension. How do you project and concretely realize your performances?

My principal method consists in forcing myself to do/make/act and to try not to stop in mind conjectures, something difficult for me because of my philosophical attitude that characterizes and strains me.
Each performance obviously arises from the main idea, that stands at the bottom or on the top of the whole process, it depends from the point of view. In a second time I try to win my logical resistances, to go over the research of a clear project, written down in a sort of storyboard, that in my works indeed turns out to be always the great absent. To visualize, represent and sketch first, in a sharp way, all the details of what I will achieve in the end is, from my personal point of view, as completing it already, live it and close it down even before starting. The essential parts of what I’d create are the impulsive sources, the parallel streams, the secondary channels that divert the main course of the river, the not considered ramifications, the intuitions. I love to follow mistakes and to manipulate them, aiming to shape something new. I obviously summarize a mental sketch, even particularly structured, about what I will represent, but I think I absorbed the method of Commedia dell’Arte, of the improvise comedy, that gives a basic and broad “canovaccio”/draft, and starting form  that point, could represent each time something unique. Improvisation is something really important to me, even if it is a wide matter, constantly subjected to an hard debate by many different artistic fields. I learned that through a strong effort, self-discipline, daily practice and deep devotion for every activity we deal with, we can achieve a competence of that expressive medium, that makes the final result  a ripe fruit of hard work, although with a calculated dose of adventure. So, I’m not talking of accidental improvisation, disconnected and ending in itself. This is my basic inclination, with the limits that each discipline necessarily requires not to fade itself out in caos.
Furthermore music is an essential part in my creative process. It activates inner mechanisms oxidized by mental cogitations. The music I use in live performances, the one I outline my videos with, together with the one I use during the creative act in general, are – without any doubt – completing parts of the final result. I see concatenations of notes as inner switches that open or close emotional and conceptual dams.

Which roles do the live performances and the act of recording a video assume in the structure of your artistic research?

As I told before, the performing experience and “live” acts in my works are central elements also if we talk of a video. But in the case of a video work, there are obviously a series of other components to consider and to manage, because I often use stop-motion or pixillation to disassemble and re-construct movements (of objects or bodies), that do not exist in the real shooting. I love a concrete work in which I can manipulate materials. Everything that happens in my videos is real, not digital, I use to cut between frames in a compulsive way, often intervening on time or direction of the moving images, but I never go too further in using effects during the editing. Taking care personally of each aspect in the making the video, from the shooting, to the editing, sometimes to the music too, and being almost always the protagonist of those works, I need a certain attitude towards self-discipline that however does not neglect the variable parts of the live action and its unexpected sides. The visual style of my videos could be mainly assimilated to a rapid and dreamlike fragmentation, as a path in a human mind’s archive of images. The method I use in editing has a great physical/performing component, that means I move the images as in a sort of contemporary choreographic composition: diagonal rhythm, broken lines, as in a crossing canon/criterion.

You also use other artistic technics, showing a broad spectrum in creative versatility. Which are the relationships and variances among the works you create with different methodologies?

This is a fundamental question in my life. I mean that for example I was always asked if I had to choose only one discipline among the others, which one would that be. A thorny question to answer to and an hard matter to explain. As regards the connections and differences of method and medium, I sincerely can’t be clear at this point of my development. I think I spent the most of the time with this question rolling around from side to side, in a curved mind (mine). This is the best image I can give about it and rather exhaustive, I guess.
I generally think that every concept must be expressed by the right signs, terms, words. I also think that the selected signs contain in themselves the attitude and profane sacredness of what they express, as a body is the noble sign of an elsewhere.
So each time, each idea is necessarily translated by a different mean, like the needle felted wool of my sculptures or the carved and layered photos, like the inks of a drawing, the broken voice of a song or some gestures in one of my performances. Every medium is appropriated to that particular idea’s epiphany. For me it is like the appearance of an essence in the material world and, because of this, it’s temporary and ephemeral. The attempt to hold these ideas in concrete shapes and contemplating them for an instant, if I will be able to do it, will be the duty of my entire existence.
Limbo, minidv, 3′.30″, color – 2010


Under a different light, minidv, 4′.20″, color — 2010 ⃗⃗


The Cut, minidv, 8′.03″, color – 2010


Photo credits:
Isobel Blank

1 | Speech without a mouth, pencil on paper cm 21×29 – 2015
2 | Ephemeral, hand cutted chestnut, fig and plane leaves on marble – 2012
3 | Under my skirt, the garden – 2014
4 | Day off, picture from the set of the video performance – 2010
5 | If I still could hear you, photographic sculpture, layered handcutted photos, cotton thread, cork, 40 x 50 x 4 cm – 2013
6 | Escape routes, Eye, photographic sculpture, layered handcutted photos, cotton thread, – 2013
7 | The last word, detail, photographic sculpture, layered handcutted photos – 2014
8 | La myse en abyme perdue – 2014
9 | Hybrid, needle felted wool, glass, plastic, moving mechanical sculpture with batteries, 17x12x9cm – 2011
10 | Under my skirt, light – 2014
11 | La physionomie d’une idée, frame from video, minidv, 2′.49″, color – 2011

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