Thoughts on artistic integrity in Body Dreaming. 

Reflections by Marisa Georgiou, consultant and collaborator on the Body Dreaming project.

In the time after collaborating on Body Dreaming in May ‘22, Emma asked me to reflect on what it was like to participate in the projects’ working process.

When I work with Emma, I am always struck by her sense of principle. She continuously thinks-through her approach to process and practice so that they reflect the ideals of the work. Doing so requires grappling with issues of artistic integrity, authenticity and choice in the face of dominant contemporary modes of artistic production and presentation. It requires us to examine how we are supporting each other, collaborating, being accountable and engaging in addition to what we are creating and what this means in broader systems of power. It often means acting in a way that is misunderstood, indigestible or devalued by the industry. It is also just hard work.

I have chosen to write about this aspect of a project I genuinely love because I want to hear from the inside about the vulnerabilities, challenges and compromises that are inherent to creating integrated art in this space.


Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, audience member, mirror gold ACM with printed design, 1 x 1m, bluetooth speaker, 9.35 x 102 x 9.35 cm, Photography Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

Body Dreaming is a performance installation which contains an improvisational practice where performers share inner thoughts and feelings whilst moving in an exploratory way around the space. They have certain choreographic parameters such as surfaces, slowness, drift, dwelling, surfacing (among others). This is then mediated and translated into different forms. You can round the corner and hear just the audio stream, watch a performance drawer visually scribe what is happening, or observe others filming them to put little .gifs of the performance online while it is still occurring.

The performers say things like:

So many people

My elbow is going to push and fold

I’m feeling a little hot so I rest my head on the cool of this step and roll my forehead as I shuffle along

It’s kind of my question of late

How to shuffle through the space

How to shuffle through different situations

Sometimes its in an elegant way and other times I get myself in quite awkward positions

That’s okay.

Its okay when your elbow is resting on your knee and you can use your thighs to give yourself a bit of leverage

It’s good to have that sense of support

Cushions are great for a sense of comfort and  they can buffer the hardness of the space

Especially if you bring them into contact with hard gravely surfaces

And then find ways to balance and support yourself.

This building has been quite supportive for us all

Its got such firm structures and it welcomes us

I think it actually looks forward to us coming, I get that feeling

Looks like someones been picking at this masking tape

I’m finding little spaces to move through where I think it might be ok to dwell for some time

Not too long

Institutions don’t like when artists dwell too long but if you find just the right amount of time it seems like it can be a good arrangement

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, mirror gold ACM with printed design, 40 x 10cm, Photography by Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

Throughout the performance, I witnessed the audience watching curiously, though occasionally a bit baffled: what are performers actually doing? It is difficult to place. They can recognise it is some kind of stream of consciousness, but it remains poetic, thoughtful and responsible. Performers drift from philosophical commentary to industry commentary, expressing memories, emotions, sensations or observations about the space and the people in it, and even the project itself (wondering about how much time has gone by or whether they forgot to set the timer). It’s a little absurd. All of it occurs in the same speed, emphasis and tone. You also feel safe watching; there is no risk of a traumatic self-disclosure, uncontained emotional outbursts or affects that activate, challenge or disconcert. Audiences are given choices about where to observe and spend time, how close to get, without pressure to participate and engage.



I think it is hard to immediately place what is happening because it diverges from the kinds of streams of consciousness currently valourised in contemporary arts and culture. We swim in a cultural paradigm where performance artists in the form of social media influencers, bros with long-form podcasts, wellness gurus and activist slam poets share stream-like monologues that ‘speak their honest truth’.

The stream looks or feels like an unmediated, unscripted, unfiltered communication. They state, implicitly or explicitly, “I know I’m not meant to say this but…” and confess the thoughts that are vulnerable, emotionally heightened, or socially unacceptable. They then comment on and contradict what they just said, or how vulnerability is hard, how they know their communication is imperfect and on a problematic platform and that they are barely able to follow their own advice whilst maintaining enthusiasm for the message. They are sharing a self-awareness of their subjective fragmentation, multiplicity and incoherence.

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes, Photography by Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography


This communicative phenomenon is sometimes deep and necessary activism, sometimes simply misguided or uncontained, sometimes adopted because we think we should do it, and sometimes intentionally cultivated to generate profit in an attention economy. Often, it’s a mixture. This communication style is a tool, and tools are morally neutral; it depends what they are used for and what context they occur in. But, it is perceived as authentic because it appears transparent; a spell that works by conjuring the affects of an unmediated, open, ethically sound, trustworthy relationship despite it occurring in a single direction across space between people who do not know each other. A shortcut to a sense of intimacy without the pressures on the other of sharing intimacy that might interrupt the smooth delivery to the mass audience. A parasocial relationship.

Art critic Bojana Kunst writes about how, as workers and subjects in contemporary capitalism, we are incentivised to confessionally express ourselves whilst simultaneously profaning that very truth with visible self awareness. She says: 

“If we wish to work successfully, we must come across as relaxed as possible, be as shameful, flexible and creative as possible, enjoy and show all of our potentiality and be critical to boot. Furthermore, we must do this publicly because contemporary work increasingly takes place before the eyes of another.”

(Kunst, Artist at Work, 2015, p. 31)

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes, Photography by Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

She goes on to explain that performing this subjective flexibility and incoherence is valourised by the system. By confessing our needs and struggles in profane ways, we are actually demonstrating awareness of our limits and sins, and conversely, our willingness to strive to reach our individual, self-actualised potential. This increases consumption and exploitation as we continue to strive for that potential, and signals it as a social value to the collective. 

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, .gifs created by performers during the live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes

.gifs are accessed by audiences via a QR code.

It also means that we can continue to participate amongst contradiction. We are permitted to confess unwillingness or ethical struggle as long as it’s simultaneously dismissed as an issue. Better this than collectively denying struggle and contradiction exist until we have a big realisation and thus won’t willingly participate in the system anymore. All of this to say, both popular culture and the art world alike seem yet to recognise that, in this paradigm, sometimes expressive streams of self-consciousness are ambiently coerced and coercive, not automatically a liberatory or authentic act. It’s often an internalised profit-driving mechanism that is part of the immaterial labour of being a contemporary capitalist subject.

This is a long way to explain that I believe the reason why Body Dreaming sometimes baffles is that, in many ways, it manages to escape this dominant paradigm. While revealing new aspects of embodied experience, attention and consciousness, there is no attempt at an unmediated stream; it is more like a thoughtful narration inclusive of all its mediations – from social considerateness to digital translation to bodily translation into a drawing. Emma describes that the dancers’ goal is not to open all portals and let the stream run forth, but to simply remove the hierarchy of what interests they explore and express in each moment, whilst still making choices about which routes to take. Thus, thoughts that are silly, serious, nostalgic, philosophical, self-referential or mundane are all given the same consideration and opportunity to be expressed as poetry. All aspects of the performers’ experience are treated with the same care and attentiveness. As this happens, nothing is profaned either. Nothing is apologised for or confessed. The authenticity of Emma’s work lies in this mature understanding of artistic transparency which, by removing the hierarchy but leaving choice, draws attention to the experiences we generally notice and value (or don’t), and how that affects what we express (or don’t).

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, audience captured during live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes, Photography by Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

This ethic is reflected throughout the project’s production. My experience in Body Dreaming was that, in both the collaborative process and the presentation, every-body participating (audiences, performers, producers) is allowed boundaries, choices, care and consent. I was trusted to write this essay without a hard due date, and payment in advance. Everyone was welcome to critique and receive critique. We could talk about the venue, the funding, the presentation format and the industry as well as the content. We were allowed to say we didn’t feel well or show up tired. We also didn’t have to share. This all felt refreshing. These are essential underpinnings to expressing and participating authentically without coercion, yet are increasingly devalued in capitalist modes of arts and cultural production.

This knitting together of process and presentation with an ethic of artistic integrity is not an easy thing to undertake, and the effort is largely invisible in the results. Body Dreaming is a nuanced and complex project not easily branded, captured and presented for an industry and audience whose attention is oversaturated. The content of the work is largely free from the draw of unmediated self-disclosure, topical social commentary, or potent affects that arouse and might then compel higher engagement and visibility. The artist statement was a poetic introduction rather than intellectual explication. 


Yet, in the process of production, Emma also had to wrangle with a funding system and industry context based on competition, and capitalist metrics of visibility, engagement and productivity as success. She presented the work in a festival context which contributes to the attention economy in order to draw an audience. She was required to network with industry members who can platform her, to give greater chance that future productions could take place. The production format of a bounded performance project is itself a part of the attention economy. None of this can be separated from the production of the work –  it is inherent to it – and it all presented ethical issues to make choices and compromises about. As an insider, I know that Emma thought about them all.

Emma Wilson, Body Dreaming, 2022, live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes, Photography by Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

I also understand the industry pressure to engage more self-reflexively with such tensions and complicities in the content and presentation of the work itself; to more visibly demonstrate self-awareness of these issues. My personal caution is that to do so would also be convenient for the system. It might mean the work is taken up into institutional programs which are comfortable to curate industry critique into the realm of content so that they might implicitly harness the sense of self-awareness, trustworthiness and authenticity without changing the structural conditions that might actually shift the problematic production paradigm itself. I question whether creatively confessing awareness of one’s complicity might just be more of the same contemporary capitalist dynamic that can permit exploitation to remain normal and unchanged by virtue of being self-reflexively integrated. And, by this logic, couldn’t any artist continue participating in the industry so long as their content is self-reflexive enough?


As demonstrated by these reflections, participating in the production of Body Dreaming was an experience that provided fertile ground for thinking about my own future approaches to creating and producing art with an ethic of integrity. My wish for artists like Emma is that our industry can find ways to 

recognise and value these aspects of labour and practice, in resistance to dominant metrics and pressures.

Emma Wilsonby , Body Dreaming, 2022, live performance event, The Caboolture Hub at The Anywhere Festival, 45 minutes, Photography Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography

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Body Dreaming is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and Moreton Bay Regional Council RADF (Regional Arts Development Fund). The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Moreton Bay Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.