The Uncomfortable Piece / by Hannah Harley

On December 6th, I was fortunate enough to participate in my first performance piece, a collaboration I took on with the incredibly talented Ren Rathbone. The evening was coordinated by Carnegie Mellon University's MFA program and Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, and it proved to be an immensely rewarding and powerful evening.

Our piece, entitled The Uncomfortable Piece, was a performative collaboration between two female bodied artists. The piece began with Harley and Rathbone entering the stage topless, with digital cameras in hand, remaining motionless while blankly staring forward. The two then walked from the stage, in silence, and into the audience. The artists then began photographing each audience member, one by one, over the course of three minutes.

The piece aimed to showcase the audience’s forced reaction to female toplessness and to their reaction to unwillingly becoming the subject of the piece. The interaction of audience members and the artists allowed for playful, thoughtful, and even panicked exchanges, bringing forth the complexities of society’s thoughts on female toplessness and visual documentation.

The following images are a product of that performance. (Photographs by Hannah Harley)

Personally, this performance marks an enormous step into a medium that has long fascinated me. While I would wish to be as emotionless as possible in the presentation of this work, I simply cannot. This project was extremely powerful for me. In recent years, I have come to understand that the correlation between nudity and individuality have, in fact, no correlation. To stand before another being, raw and upfront about my own physical condition.. It is a powerful proposition that I am far more complex, more intricate than my physical body. That no matter how I exist physically, even despite society's intense restrictions on the 'proper' female body, I am more.

I am far more.