This summer, Charlie Evans (2014 BA Design graduate, and currently a Technical Tutor in the Department) is spending two months in Taipei, on a Designers in Residence program for the British Council in Taiwan. Charlie will send us regular correspondence with impressions from his experience; we’re publishing the first of his letters today.
For the past six months I’ve been training as a professional wrestler in London. This involved an 8‐week beginner course, 2 months of relatively intense training and diet, two small knee injuries, a small shoulder injury and 2 months of relative inactivity.
In short, I see this process as an examination of (my) gender, focusing on masculinity in its current sociopolitical, economic and ideological state. By immersing myself in the subculture of Professional Wrestling I am able to generate a cartography of masculinity, filtered not simply through the performative, hyper‐real lens of the theatre‐sport itself, but by means of intimate tuition and aspirational construction. Within the context of this research, wrestling becomes a semi‐fictional architectural space that employs a set of critical design tools. These tools can be used to amplify and magnify the performative aspects of gender. Should my proficiency allow, I intend to engage in the (re)construction of gender at a pop‐cultural level via my wrestling moniker, Yosef Kafka: a c***‐kicking late‐Capitalist embodiment of progressive gender politics.
I carry into the wrasslin’ a growing apathy for design and its current vectors. I find myself asking whether there is oxygen enough within design for my politics and anti‐essentialist position. I find hope in Beatriz/Paul Preciado’s Testo Junkie:
“We live in a punk hypermodernity: it is no longer about discovering the hidden truth in nature, it is about the necessity to specify the cultural, political, and technological processes through which the body as artefact acquires natural status. … [Capitalism] produces mobile ideas, living organs, symbols, desires, chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul … [this] is the invention of a subject and then its global reproduction.”
This passage collides queer and gender politics with design, but significantly (for my work) it foregrounds design and the body. Appropriating this text, I substitute “the body as artefact” for the body as architecture: a constructed (designed) space within which we live.
This is what steers me into this year’s Designers in Residence, Taipei 2016, using this interest in the body to explore one of their four key themes ‐ life quality and health.
Having landed a week ago I feel reluctant to make any sweeping judgements or readings, but would like to acknowledge the warm hospitality, openness and friendship being offered here: a characteristic I suspect extends outwards from the center of the culture. Leaving Britain in the shadow of its referendum, I carry with me a lingering shame and coldness for a country neglecting the realities of its decline, into a country of optimism and ascendency, aspiring to share itself with the world.
I see this particularly in the dojo of NTW, a Taiwanese Professional Wrestling promotion who are sharing their Saturday training session with me. The head trainer, Kazuya, is earnest and generous. He frames what we’re doing as an art form. At the end of the session he explains the training focuses on “your heart, spirit, body and skill.” He touches on the difficulties of producing professional wrestling in Taiwan, and also, the group’s passion and commitment for it.
The body sat firmly at the centre of these three hours of intense training, but inseparable from it is the intimacy I experienced here; we helped each other stretch and loosen our bodies, protected each other in performing, validated each other through the mutual exhaustion produced in relation to a shared passion. My loneliness within this foreign city felt most absent in front of 8 strangers, being wrestled to the ground by a man likely twice my bodyweight. R. Tyson Smith described this as the “spectacle of young men striving for a solidarity they are unable or unwilling to find in any of life’s other social realms.” In relation to the residency, maintaining the social aspect of whatever health‐practices I examine, is paramount.