Alex Flett; 2001 to 2002. Development of Dancers
After exhibiting the Bodyworks Suite at the XII International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, I was asked by the South African artist Jan Jordaan if I would contribute to a print portfolio called “Break the Silence” which was being developed by a charity which was then called Artists for Human Rights, and now is called Art for Humanity. Jan was, and still is, Director of the organisation, so I said OK and then thought, what do I do for this? I didn’t want to use any of the Bodyworks images as I felt that they were specialised into a particular framework which was the AIDS Conferences, so I looked back at the large dancer woodblocks which I had made in the 1990’s but had only ever proof printed. I settled on one print called “Three Dancers” as I felt that if it was to carry a broad message, the universality of dance and in particular its internal situation within the cultures of Africa would resonate in the context of an HIV Awareness message.
Below left: original Three Dancers state proof print size A1 (collection of Noah Howard and Lieve Fransen, Belgium). Below centre: the original woodblock. Below right: the silkscreen version at A2 on Arche Crème paper created from the original state proof for “Break the Silence” The state proof was printed at the Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen as was the Break the Silence silkscreen edition
Left: the edition (10) of Three Dancers woodblock 100 x 70 cms on Fabriano Ivore paper.
The original state proof was created at the Peacock printmakers in Aberdeen, as was the edition for Break the Silence. The original was at 100 x 70 cms, so the image had to be taken down to A2 to fit the portfolio and so it was reworked as a silkscreen. However, I left the ragged edge from the woodblock as the block had been carved with, amongst other things, a power drill, literally scraping the drill bit across the surface, giving the image a nervous moving line. The image was constructed from drawings made from dancers at the National Ballet of the Netherlands and is related to the xerographic prints created in 1994, but there is a difference in that this image is far more sexually charged, which is another reason as to why I decided to use it as my contribution to Break the Silence. If one looks at the thighs of the three girls, they are like huge inviting vaginas. And the stance owes much to Picasso’s Demoiselles D’Avignon. Some may find it curious, that the woodblock edition (printed with help from the University of Dundee) wasn’t actually printed until after the silkscreen edition, but that is what happened.
Left: Three Dancers II. Edition (10) 70 x 100 cms on Fabriano Ivore
For a short time, I thought that I might use this second, male Three Dancers image as my contribution to the Break the Silence print portfolio. Although it resonates with a kind of primal male power, the covering of genitals indicates that such power has to contained, and thus could have worked in the Break the Silence portfolio. However, a large part of the images strength comes from the texturing which pressure through the press gives to it, and I felt that, unlike the female Three Dancers this could not be replicated in a smaller silkscreen format. In many ways, it is unfortunate that both images could not be seen together as they were constructed to complement each other. The female figures calmly invite but not unless the males cover their genitalia - in other words, by wearing a condom, and at the same time seem to say “Is this all you want me for, as a sex object?” I think though that the female dancers’ image has worked as few would have connected the thighs to genitalia, and are attracted to the image for reasons they may not fully understand, thus it does its work getting people to understand the Break the Silence message.
Below: Corps de Ballet I, and Corps de Ballet II. Edition 10, size 70 x 100 cms. Fabriano Ivore paper.
The four image set of the woodblock dancers prove that dance is a universal and very human thing, and this has been proved with the impact of the most famous of the four, the Break the Silence Three Dancers, in an African context. Interestingly, when I was creating the drawings from the National Ballet of the Netherlands in 1993, I discovered that half the company were about to take Swan Lake to the Caribbean and asked the Director why he was taking such a traditional work there, as it seemed to my mind that a modern work would have been more appropriate. He told me I was wrong, because the dance tradition was so strong there, that they could never compete along such lines. What people there wanted to see, and what created huge interest, were the traditional Ballet forms. It was in such forms that people saw something unique, different, but connected to their own cultural dance forms. It was this which I had in mind when I was cutting the blocks. So, dance is definitely a universal activity, whether traditional classic ballet, Texas line dancing, a tribal dance, Highland dancing, or a wrap dance on a street corner. Every culture can recognise it, whatever the original impetus of the culture which produced it. One could almost call it “co-ordinated individuality,” which sounds like a contradiction in terms – a dichotomy – but it works.