Natalie Ramus

WOJO Curator

The Abject Body

Natalie's work explores spaces between, and left; wounds and notions of the abject in relation to the body. She's interested in traces and gaps and absence, exploring how things don't fit, and fit, physically and perceptually.  

She will be curating this page as an online exhibition or project space in which to explore the ideas and themes of WOJO and will be talking to contemporary practitioners whose work shares similar concerns; her first curation will be for Issue #2: 'Good Girls and the Celebration of the Slut'.

So, for this, the very first issue of WOJO, Natalie talks about her own work and ideas:
My practice is informed by my embodied experience as a woman. Through my exploration of the materiality of the body I attempt to connect with the innately performative body through it's visceral, abject qualities. Through the re-presentation of bodily materials such as hair or blood that have universal familiarity through subjective experience, I am interested in how the gap between viewer and artwork or artist can be bridged; The viewer becomes hyper-aware of their own body, therefore having a perceived physical experience. I often use my body within my practice as a way of reclaiming space and time, in resistance to the notion that a woman should live in a specific socially expected way. I am fascinated with the public-private and appropriate-inappropriate dichotomy that surrounds discussions in relation to the body; assumed acceptable modes of behaviour in society, specifically when discussing the concept of the female in public space, drives my questioning.

As a mother I feel the conflict between the label of mother and how I feel as a mother, artist, feminist, etc. The notion of what qualities society thinks makes a ‘good’ mother is problematic and I wonder how the role is performed on a day to day basis. Through the juxtaposition of the immediacy of the body as battery of memory, as site and material, and domestic, seemingly nostalgic, memory-imbued objects which often carry immersive qualities through scent, (such as bread, milk or soap) I am interested in how time and memory become elastic; and how meaning is an inherently subjective perspective. 

The Abject Body.

I have always been fascinated with the anxieties people have with the unravelling body. Through my collecting of and using body fluids, skin and hair I have intended on challenging these oppositions to what I considered to be the abject body. I originally (naively) considered the term ‘Abject’ to be a term to talk about the exposing of the breaking down of the body, or the insides of the body becoming part of the outside; whether this is through a cut on the surface of the skin or through bodily functions such as defecating for example. Terms like ‘abject’ frequently become aspects of artist’s statements and are then used flippantly without giving them any real consideration for what they mean. If I am to use a descriptor such as the term ‘Abject’ as a core concepa in my practice then I must know what I am referencing. The Oxford Dictionary, (2016) defines abject as, ‘Experienced or present to the maximum degree…extremely unpleasant and degrading…completely without pride or dignity; self-abasing’. This seems to be discussing abject as something which is to be seen in negative light, but this is not necessarily how I perceive the unravelling of the body. I realise that abject could refer to the casting off of the body, but this doesn’t necessarily relate to my interest in the materiality of the body. I recognise that to view the body not intact could be perceived to be a signifier of death. Blood is often a signifier of a damaged body, but when it appears monthly for a woman it signifies something different. I suppose it is the complex relationship with the material of the body that I am excited by.

    Upon further research it soon becomes clear that the term ‘abject’ is one that is vast, and therefore insufficient as a sole definition to my practice. Julia Kristen in the essay Powers of Horror (1941) talks about how that which is discarded of the body, which we associate with death, is in fact a signifier of life. She states, (1941, p.3) ‘A wound with blood and pus does not signify death…These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands….Such wastes drop so that I might live.’ This point raised by Kristen, when accepted, liberates me from fear of my body. I feel that the use of blood and bodily matter within my practice allows for me to engage with the body as a living, regenerating system of processes. The traces of hair and skin to which I refer to collecting as part of my practice also signify the body in it’s absence. Traces of the body have the power to speak of the body in it’s absence.

The power of the presence of a body through absence is incredibly moving, and I think this is one of the reasons I am so fascinated with the traces and remains left behind; whether these are left behind after performance - or life itself. I suppose it is not solely the casting off and decomposing body that I am fascinated with but the body as production, creation; and through the use and manipulation of my body in works such as 16000:3 (2016), I feel I am able to feel a sense of ownership of my own body, engaging with both the autonomy of my body and challenging behaviours which are deemed to be inappropriate such as breaking my own skin through choice. Associations are often made from other people with self-harm, but the act of breaking skin for the purpose of research based practice is something very different indeed. This idea that there are things you can and can’t do to your own body makes me question who owns my body? Does society or the legal system own my body? Or is my body my body?

credit: Beth Chalmers
Mothers Pride (2017) 

9 hour performance using 350 loaves Mothers Pride Bread, 120L Milk, 10m Red Shibari Rope, Mop, 5 x Buckets 

Mothers Pride is a durational performance. It is a space which, like the body itself, is autonomous. Evolving over a period of nine hours it becomes a site of meditation through action. It considers the maternal female within public space. As a mother I feel the conflict between the label of mother - what society perceives that to be, and how I feel as a mother, artist, feminist, etc. The notion of what qualities society thinks makes a ‘good’ mother is problematic and I wonder how the role is performed on a day to day basis.

I am asking myself- where does my performance of the label of mother end and my true embodiment of being a mother begin? Using Mothers Pride bread and milk, materials evocative of comfort and a nostalgic memory of happy nuclear families that never really existed, I want to  reclaim space. I will reclaim my right to define my own borders, my own edges, my own limits and ultimately I will move closer to understanding what these are/where they lie.
16000 (2016)

A fascination with the materiality of the body has led me to question its edges and boundaries. 16000 is a long term project in which I will make use of a stack of paper which equates to my body’s height. This stack will be used to extend the body into the occupied space; it will explore and document the body through action- the traces of which will be captured and documented creating an archive of time, memory and body. The traces of materials such as body fluids are as autonomous as the body itself in the way that they change through time, and so the artefacts of the performance are also performative by nature. Overall this project will question the parameters of performance, and will ask the question- when does performance begin / end? (If it ends at all).

credit: Gary Cook

35 sutures. 3 hours. Performed at Emergency, Manchester 2016. 

Threads. (Inter)connections. Tension. As the number of sutures connecting my body to the stack increased, the stack began to sway with my breath. The room, which was so small that only 5 observers were permitted entry at a time meant that this action was unavoidable.

The intimacy of the space held invisible connections made through empathy, connecting the observer to me; and so a shared 3 hour experience meant that a web of visible/invisible connections filled the room, which we all became entangled in. The space felt transformative.

The ritual of repetition was relentless. The intensity of the action has deepened the level of connection I feel to this stack- as the suture that passed through my flesh then in turn passed through the edges of the stack I began to question the edges of my body; I wondered.... Is the stack now an extention of my flesh? Is it now part of me?


My children’s teeth came into existence inside my body and left inside the bodies of my children. As my children lost their teeth they came back into my possession; with those teeth as material, a meditation through action consider where the mother’s body ends. 
It Doesn't Fit Anymore (2016)

This is a response to the various roles I play in my life as mother, wife and artist; and how they each create boundaries / tension with each other. I decided to wear my wedding dress as a symbol of the weight I carry when trying to be experimental and explorative in my art practise.

The heavy wedding dress a symbol of the domestic goddess and subservient wife that I grew up to idolise through role play as a child. It is ironic that my wedding dress that I wore in 2007 is now two sizes too small; not only does the dress not fit, but I don't fit into the role that the cumbersome restrictive dress symbolises. The mental struggle becomes a physical one as I battle with the physicality of the dress and my body to attempt to demolish a tumble dryer (the 'domestic goddess' tool) with a sledge hammer (a 'man's tool') that weighed 7lb (the weight of an average British baby).

Hand Stitched. (2015)

As children we often explore the materiality of the body; picking at scabs, printing the patterns of a grazed knee on a tissue, even wrapping elastic bands around fingers and watching them turn blue. This method of enquiry which is repressed throughout adulthood intrigues me. The juxtaposition of the innocence, playfulness and inquisitive nature of childhood against the mortality of the body is a powerful concept; when reflecting back to the moments in childhood where these enquiries took place, I realise that they are not totally noticed or valued. In response to this notion I stitched hair through the top layer of skin on my hand. It became a meditative act whereby the experience of time altered. By taking an act experienced in childhood and pushing it into adulthood, the change of context means that the way this act is read alters. This fascinates me. Learned social rules and repressed behaviours inform the views we have have.

I belong to the generation that was aware of the introduction of the internet, therefore I am aware of how virtual realities in the form of social media have become a part of our landscape. With so many of us living our lives online we are becoming more and more detached from our physical material selves. To experience each other physically is a powerful but overlooked aspect of our lives; it's diminishing through a language of emoji symbols and virtual conversations. Through my presentation of the physical material body in a way that is visually shocking, the viewer becomes very self aware; over-perceptive of the sensual experiences of the body. Usually the screen of a tv is the portal to another place. A way of escaping our everyday lives.  Also, the photograph is often associated as a portal to connect with past memories. Ironically I realise that I am using the screen and photograph in contrast to this. I am using it to make the physical now even more present in people’s minds, creating an experience in which the viewer becomes hyper aware of their own bodies and senses. A reconnection to the physical is manifested.