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  • Choking on the Splinters:Art, the Body, and Processes of Adaptation in the Work of Tom de Freston
  • Stephen C. Kenyon-Owen (bio)

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Figure 1.

Process, alone.

[End Page 150]

Oxford, August 11th 2013, 7 pm.

I'm standing in the bathroom naked, looking at myself in the mirror. I'm wet with sweat and red faced. There's the salty taste of blood in my mouth, I spit it into the sink. There is a small graze on the side of my head, I wipe it clean with a wet cotton pad. Chuck cold water across my face. A slight sting. My knees and elbows are raw, skin pulled away. There are small bruises across my torso, a deep, bluing bruise on my hip, sore to the press. A rash across my chest. Splinters embedded in my palms and the soles of my feet. I remove them one by one.1

This excerpt from Tom de Freston's upcoming autobiographical work, Wreck, used here in an attempt to illustrate and perhaps immerse ourselves in the visceral, sweaty, near-primal method the artist utilizes in the creation of his pieces. It is a fragment. Unpublished and unseen, in fact, edited out, no longer a part of the whole—an embryonic and abandoned element of a larger body of work in-progress. A captured moment in-text of the aftermath of creation, as we see a literal body of work now tired, injured, bleeding, and fragile. This is the hidden evidence of the art, the buried text behind the frame; the body challenged, scored, and altered by process. We sit and read, observe, and pick at the splinters. This paper seeks to observe such process in the work of de Freston, how it has evolved, and what it might say regarding notions of adaptation.

De Freston's practice is "dedicated to the construction of multimedia worlds, combining paintings, film and performance into immersive visceral narratives."2 Recent work includes a collaborative exploration of the myth of Orpheus [End Page 151]


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Figures 2–3.

Framed and adapted.


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Figures 2–3.

Framed and adapted.

and Eurydice with his wife, the poet and novelist Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Orpheus and Eurydice: A Graphic-Poetic Exploration combines art by de Freston and poetry by Hargrave. The book provides an alternative insight into the Orphean journey through Tom's visuals, while also giving voice and agency to Eurydice (elements she often lacks in retellings) through Kiran's words. In addition, critical responses to the myth and the text itself were provided by a variety of academics and creatives; these were intermingled within the chapters, providing variant axes of interpretation to the text itself. The book was not the end, for after all, Orpheus is the "artist whose song continues beyond his narrative ending," it being one element in a "multidisciplinary, collaborative retelling" that spiralled into performance, painting, music, and a short film that granted an extension to the narrative, detailing events after the book itself, a postscript of O and E.3

Similar textual explorations and multi-media activity took place within the Demons Land project, a collaboration with academic and writer Simon Palfrey and filmmaker Mark Jones.4 Integrating painting, film, sculptures, and digital drama, Demons Land reimagines Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. The central question set by the collaborators within this adaptation was "what would it mean, in all its beautiful horrifying actuality, if a poem was to actually come to life?"5 That new "life" of the work, now adapted, portrays a [End Page 152]


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Figures 4–7.

Transformative bodies.


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Figures 4–7.

Transformative bodies.


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Figures 4–7.

Transformative bodies.


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Figures 4–7.

Transformative bodies.

dystopian, hellish world through which viewers can reflect on the nightmarish depths of the human soul, and why people act as they do—not only in hallucinatory figments of the imagination but in the real-world phenomena of genocide...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-7989
Print ISSN
0306-7661
Pages
pp. 150-174
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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