HOW DID YOUR COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIP COME TO BE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BOTH OF YOU?
Amber: I think I’ve always felt comfortable with Shivani. Since meeting her as part of my next film (Art as Catharsis), we both felt we understood each other—there was no unease left. I don’t usually feel comfortable modelling for other people—although I have built up a confidence taking self-portraits as part of my production design practise—but when Shivani asked, it was an instant yes. I love supporting other creatives, and felt that this would also be a great step for my confidence.
Shivani: For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the human body. I wanted to express this in as many ways as I could imagine. In the last couple of years, my paintings have been becoming more abstract, but I didn't want the work to lose touch with my initial inspiration. By reintroducing the body more obviously back into the work, through the use of a model, I could still honour my inspiration, as well as continuing the abstraction of the paintings. Having worked so well with Amber on her film, it felt really natural to ask her to be part of this piece. I've only experimented with models a handful of times, but my new ideas demanded a model in a way that my work hadn't before. The emphasis for this project fell on how it feels to inhabit the human body, rather than the way the body looks from the outside. I really wanted to deal with 'the gaze’: how to break it, how to assert autonomy. By focussing on the experience of the body – its sensuality and feeling – it becomes a home to be enjoyed. What happens around it dissolves a little.
TELL US ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE PROJECT.
Amber: The idea behind the shoot was inspired by a Titian painting of Venus. Despite having a very different body-type to a classical Venus, the topic was focused around inner reflection, so I felt really comfortable. We were mimicking a nude painting and I was wearing just a small bralette and shorts. I was surprisingly unphased—probably because of the good company (my boyfriend Levi was also there taking photos) and the positive, easy working dynamic we had already established. Everyone was definitely coming from a very respectful place.
Shivani: Venus kept on cropping up in my research, and I found myself enchanted by Titian's version. In his painting, we see Venus observing herself and a fragmented part of her reflection in the mirror. I wanted to make something that honoured this painting, as well as looking at what it means to reflect on ourselves wholly and favourably. In my version, I eclipsed the mirror completely to deflect the gaze back to Venus, as a way of bringing her to a state of inner reflection. The works of art around her are meant to reflect her inner beauty and harmony, some of the qualities Venus embodies.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THE VULNERABILITY THAT ITS THEMES NATURALLY ENTAILED?
Amber: I think that I had just enough experience and trust not to worry about how I looked and just embrace the experience. Shivani suggested a few things, but I mainly just did what felt right, and we got some really nice poses for the photos. Stepping away from knowing exactly how I looked and not seeing anything until we had finished was really freeing. I definitely used the moment to think about myself in a broader way and even meditated for some of it. I know that art has always provided me with a certain calmness, but my usual process is often a bit more frenetic—it was really nice to be able to be still and follow Shivani’s lead. I think that was the biggest challenge actually, being physically still—I usually move around so much!
Shivani: I was really keen to make Amber feel as comfortable as possible in her own skin, so that she could forget that we were there observing her or taking photos. I applied coconut oil to her hair, gold coloured dust to her skin and painted yellow and blue symbols on her body to help prepare her. My use of colour aligns to the chakra system, which I have learnt about through yoga. Chakras are basically wheels of energy running along the spine of the energetic body. The solar plexus chakra is linked to the colour yellow, and is located between the navel and the sternum. It is the seat of personal power. The throat chakra, located at the base of the neck, energises our communication and is connected to the colour blue.
WHAT WAS THE STRONGEST OUTCOME OF YOUR COLLABORATIVE WORK?
Amber: What I have taken from this experience has been really positive. Doing something slightly different to my usual definitely freed me up and made me feel really good for the rest of the day.
Shivani: Amber helped me challenge my practise in a really positive way. In the run up to doing the shoot, she became the focus of the work - thinking about her in relation to Venus shaped the art work I created around her; it helped me gain a healthy detachment and clarified my ideas. During the shoot itself, I had to make painterly decisions quicker than usual, as we didn't have any rehearsal time, and this helped me better trust my instincts.
You can find more of Shivani’s work on Instagram at @shivanikhoshia
Amber is at @amberbardell where you can also find out more about her next film ‘Art as Catharsis’ and see some of her bedroom sets
Levi Aluede @levisnafu