Departing from the tension presented in the film Billy Elliot between the hard-labouring landscape of coal extraction and the seemingly feminine or emasculating middle-class and urban world of ballet-dancing, Rock/Body examines the ways in which the labouring bodies of miners and quarrymen and the performing bodies of dancers might, when thought together rather than separately, constitute privileged sites for exploring how geology and biology might converge in concrete human bodies and affect their forms of cultural production. Further, and given the way in which a universal “humanity” has been uncritically posited as dominant geological agent in recent scientific discourses, the project will also focus on concrete bodies in order to problematise such universalising conception of humanity and open it up to existing scholarly debates on race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability, and the ways in which differentiated bodies might be differently vulnerable to changing earth processes and possess different affordances when it comes to their ability to act as geological agents.
To adequately address those issues calls for collaborative cross- and inter-disciplinary approaches supported by scholars, scientists, and creative practitioners who are seldom given the chance to exchange knowledge and methodologies with one another in a non-hierarchical manner.
Through such reconceptualisation of rock/body interfaces, the network will address wider questions at the intersection of the sciences, the arts, and the humanities. Namely:
- Racial, class, gender and sexual differences in relation to the role of humanity as both geologic subject and agent;
- The political aesthetics of mineral depletion as it is found in both rocks (mined and quarried) and human bodies exhausted by high-intensity labour and performance; and
- Time perception and the ways in which an aesthetics of duration might function as a privileged site from where richer experiences and knowledge of deep time might emerge and new human affiliations with the geologic be enacted.
At the centre of the research activities, there will be a series of three research seminars involving more than 20 participants amongst scientists, humanities scholars, and artists. Each seminar will take place at a different location and be dedicated to exploring a specific subtheme:
- Seminar 1 (The British Geological Survey, Nottingham): “Flesh/Minerality”;
- Seminar 2 (University of Exeter, Penryn Campus): “Extraction/Exhaustion”;
- Seminar 3 (University of Exeter, Streatham Campus): “Time/Duration”.
Further to the research seminars, Rock/Body also faces outwards through a public programme taking place in September at Exeter and which will include a free exhibition of works by participating artists and a specially-commission site-specific performance piece that will respond to both the concerns of the research network and the Exeter landscape.