Janet Biggs, Airs Above the Ground, 2007, single-channel video, run time: 5:21, ed: 5 + 2AP.
“Airs Above the Ground is a dressage term I use to draw a parallel between high-level, classical dressage movements, in which the horse leaves the ground, and efforts required to present the appearance of female adolescent ease.
I inverted the scene to show the hidden, below-water effort, rather than the above-water movements, which are normally seen and judged. This perspective reveals what is necessary to maintain and support those movements, and, by extension, asks the viewer to grapple with what is required to live up to society’s objectifying notions of the ease and beauty of youth.”
“We all walk through life in these bodies, many of them malleable, some less so. My body, white and female, shapes the way I see and am seen. Because of this body I inhabit, every time I point my camera or my creative eye, it becomes a political act.
The very idea of “female” is hard to define. Judith Butler challenges the ‘naturalness’ of gender, instead speaking about gender ‘performativity.’ Synchronized swimming, known for the swimmers exaggerated smiles, stylized movements, sequined swimsuits and glitter-gelled hair becomes a parody of ‘female,’ at once feeding into the most stereotypical patriarchal fantasies while belying the extreme strength and athleticism required of the swimmers.”
“My work continues to focus on how individuals define a sense of themselves when faced with ‘the extreme.’ These days, I tend to look at the extreme in terms of landscapes and situations; the melting ice and snow of the Arctic, the growing deserts of Western China, or a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. While navigating adolescence can certainly be extreme, I can’t help but look at Airs Above the Ground now, from our current context of isolation and confinement during the pandemic. Attempting to live up to perceived notions of how to successfully transition from girlhood into womanhood can be isolating and confining.
Navigating adolescence can feel like a lifetime. Looking back, it seems like a brief moment, but that period of self-discovery and self-definition can profoundly affect the rest of one’s life. Much of my work is informed by existing dualities, how we as humans are both incredibly fragile and can still manifest strength. I am working on a new project in which I consider time in relationship to the origins of our universe, to the origins of life itself, then the concept of "time" in terms of a person’s age shifts. I seek out these shifts in perspective, these existing and shifting dualities. “
“The sound in this video both supports and complicates its conceptual narrative. I work with some wonderful musicians and composers who come into the studio and compose in real time as they watch my footage. We shape the music together to evoke everything from tension to transcendence. The initial percussive sound as the swimmer prepares for competition is meant to elicit tension or anxiety. A cello solo begins once the swimmer enters the water. The composition becomes soothing, even transcendent, which contrasts with the exertion and exhaustion of the swimmer, who stays submerged for extended periods of time.
I am always eager to learn new skills in my practice. For “Airs Above the Ground,” I chose to be in the water with the swimmer. I first tried filming while snorkeling, and then scuba diving, but I had difficulty framing my shot while wearing underwater goggles. Eventually, I came up with an effective solution to film with my head above water. This set-up required me to learn some synchronized swimmer moves so I could tread water for long periods of time. I can now do a killer eggbeater kick.”