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Kirsty Martinsen: ‘Bodiness’

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1 February 2024

Who would have thought that a scratchy little ink drawing called hands like wings by Kirsty Martinsen and a line from a Rumi poem “we are sodden in bodiness…” would provide the spark of inspiration for the ambitious, and impressively ongoing multi-year and multi-location Bodiness project.

South Australian professional disabled artist, Kirsty Martinsen, has a Bachelor of Visual Arts from the South Australian School of Art and a Diploma of Painting from the NY Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.

The very first iterations of the project began with smaller ink drawings Martinsen was creating while she studied Production Design at Tafe in 2016, and was also about to begin her first treatment for Optic Neuritis. These ink drawings were her reaction to her fear of the unknown that loomed in regard to the upcoming medical treatments as well as her recent diagnosis with MS. Martinsen’s lecturer at the time saw these ink drawings and further encouraged her to make them larger, which expanded the concept into one which excitingly incorporated Martinsen’s wheelchair. This is also the year that Martinsen began collaborating with New York-based theatre maker, Erwin Maas.

Kirsty Martinsen, a Caucasian woman, in an electronic wheelchair on top of a large cream sheet of material with round black ink patterns. Kirsty is on a large, open rooftop. A blue sky with white clouds and the tops of high-rise buildings are in the background.

Kirsty Martinsen, 2016.

Birds were a continuous part of her imagery, though Kirsty notes, this was more so unconsciously within her practice, with them representing an enduring image of hope, freedom, liberation, and strength for the artist.

The next year in 2017, Kirsty was selected to be a resident artist at local multi-faceted artist studios and creative offices and exhibition space, The Mill for Bodiness – Development of new work with theatre maker Erwin Maas (New York), and Performance with Alison Currie and Ian Dixon. In collaboration with local choreographer and director making dance, Alison Currie, Martinsen continued to grow her ink painting technique in which she utilised her wheelchair, with this version of performance accompanied by both Currie and live trumpet by Dixon.

Kirsty, a Caucasian woman in an electronic wheelchair, slaps an ink-covered material onto a large white piece of material covered in black ink tracks beneath her. A trumpet player and older man are to the side.

‘Bodiness – Development of new work with theatre maker Erwin Maas (New York), and Performance with Alison Currie and Ian Dixon’ at The Mill, 2017.

Bodiness: call and response was a 2022 collaboration between painter Martinsen and South Australian award winning theatre-maker, dancer and singer dancer, Erin Fowler. It developed further the ideas of the collaboration that first begun in 2016 with Maas, and continued the project based on Martinsen’s experience of ‘otherness’ as disabled woman.

Kirsty explains this ideation of the project;

“People say to me ‘you are so much more than your body!’. What does that even mean, nay look like? Living with MS has taken an emotional & psychological toll, but all people see is the physical, the body. I feel like I’ve lost who I am in a chasm of loss and grief and bureaucracy . I have had to fight to keep my spirit alive. We are all much more than our flesh. My work seeks to explore the ways in which difference is a site for connection, the body is a site for potential, and process is a site for emotional/psychological/spiritual exploration.”

The original work took its title from a line of a Rumi poem; “…that tangle of limited surrender/ Is the human mire. We’re sodden in bodiness…”

Viewers were asked to consider process, gesture, scale, materiality, movement, and collaboration in relation to her practice. Similarly, in this latest development Martinsen and Fowler responded to those components in each other’s work and located intersections of commonality. Fowler’s performance work is steeped in a rich spiritual practice and this is one of the main reasons Martinsen invited her to collaborate.

For the 2023 South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival, Martinsen more consciously embraced a bird-focused imagery in her exhibition The Jabiru Series which was displayed in the street-facing windows on the ground level U City in the Adelaide CBD. This exhibition displayed recent paintings and drawings from the artist that contemplated freedom and hope. Inspired by meeting a Jabiru in the zoo, these works consider what it means to be trapped and work with limitations, and were another development within the growing artistic project.

At night, a person in a jacket stands looking at a painting illuminated in a glass window. The orange, red, yellow, white and grey painting depicts a large bird (a jabiru) with outstretched wings.

‘The Jabiru Series’, SALA 2023

Later in 2023, POP Gallery & Studios in Port Adelaide presented the next iteration of the project titled; Kirsty Martinsen // Bodiness: hands like wings. This performative new body of work by Martinsen was a work-in-progress performance, made in collaboration with local sculptural artist James Dodd, Will Spartalis who created the performance soundscape, and continued collaboration with Erwin Maas. developed at a Free-range Residency at The Mill and then Vitalstatistix Adhocracy.

This iteration of the Bodiness project, Bodiness: hands like wings, featured kinetic appendages for Martinsen’s wheelchair that become a vivid component of live performance, combining her artistic performance pieces with her continuing interest in birds and what they powerfully represented for her.

Kirsty, a Caucasian woman, sits in her wheelchair in the centre of a gallery space, the audience looks on attentively, there are white wings on her chair, illuminated by a light behind her.

‘Bodiness: hands like wings’ at Post Office Projects, 2023.

In 2024, the self-portrait performance Bodiness: Hands Like Wings will be performed at the Adelaide Festival Centre as part of their inSPACE residency. This inSPACE residency has provided the incredible opportunity for Martinsen to work with director Erwin Maas in Adelaide for the first time, as up till now they have only worked remotely.

Their unique collaboration brings theatre, painting and drawing, and disability together in a piece addressing notions of freedom, beauty and ability. Their focus is on honing Kirsty‘s skills as a performer, strengthening form and structure in the overall existing script. Kirsty is interested in her relationship to increasingly disabled body as a site for transformation and connection.

Martinsen and Maas will also be collaborating with Sound Designer, Sascha Budimski, and projection/lighting designer, Mark Oakley, to create a show that captures Martinsen’s innovation and spirit.

Stay tuned for this fourth and final stage of development for Kirsty’s project.

You can learn more about Kirsty through her artist profile here.