Stansbie, Lisa (2012) Extreme Exposures: The practice and narratives of channel swimming as a methodology for the creation of contemporary art. In: Fields of Vision: The Arts in Sport, 29th November 2012, Headingley Carnegie Stadium, Leeds. (Unpublished)

This presentation discusses the theoretical framework and methodology behind a recent (2012) body of artwork. The work is the result of a three month research sabbatical from The University of Huddersfield that investigates the narratives, processes, rituals and apparatus of the sport of open water swimming with a focus on the ‘cult’ of channel swimming, in particular the necessity for learned behaviours, collective interaction and the identity of the channel swimmer.

‘Interaction amongst peers can lead to an excessive commitment to action’ (Hughes and Coakley 1991)

The work combines both object based sculpture, photography, drawing and films that utilise an experiential approach to the research of the sport by a direct involvement. Documentary processes and re-enactment are engaged, with myself as subject of the study in the video series Acclimatisation (2012). The piece documents the body’s physical response to cold-water immersion and the method of acclimatising (habituation) over a set period of time, a process that is core to channel swimming training. This piece in particular reflects aspects of ‘positive deviant’ behaviour (Ewald and Jiobu, 1985) where there is an over commitment to extending the action (Hughes and Coakley 1991) undertaken by extreme athletes. Links between practices of endurance art and acclimatisation are described.

Sandettie Lightship (2012) Shipping Lane (2012) and Standard Relay (2012) are part of a series of sculptural photographs and film made from the same apparatus and materials that channel swimmers use to feed during a swim. The repetitive time-based behaviour of ‘the feed’ and how it is administered is part of the learned channel swimmer behaviour and the self-made feeding constructions become an essential object within the performance of the swim. The constructed sculptures become semi abstract, retaining traces of their function but are further distanced and transposed from their origin as a channel swimming feeder via the medium of film, the editing of which reflects the time-based measuring of the duration of a swim. The series Channel Swimwear Rules (2012) consists of self-portraits of the swimmer wearing all the equipment disallowed when swimming the channel, researching the relationship between the authentic body and the use of technology to enhance performance.

Lisa Stansbie, Extreme Exposures- The Practice and Narratives of Channel Swimming as a Methodology for the Creation of Contemporary Art, 2013
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