Manoeuvre is a video that captures the actions of artist Bingyi Liu, in a subversion of exercise culture. Through exploring how the body can be manipulated by the regular rhythm, limited space and constant cycle of a treadmill, Bingyi considers the wider trappings of class, consumption and an increasingly mechanised society.
While the treadmill can be seen as a symbol for a healthy, well-balanced life, that efficiently brought exercise into the home, it was originally developed in British prisons for forced labour in the 19th Century. This deliberately destructive physical work for the sake of work destroyed the bodies and minds of many. Poet Oscar Wilde was subjected to this during his two-year imprisonment due to his sexuality, and made reference to the devices in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, 1898.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
Today, the treadmill is an expensive, aspirational object, often bought out of the desire to improve physical fitness in line with popular assumptions surrounding health and “clean living”. However, if you search on eBay, there is an abundance of barely used treadmills; suggesting a gap between the imagined lifestyle it promises, and the daily reality.
It also acts as a symbol of productivity and discipline, saving precious minutes of our day by reducing the transition between exercise and other responsibilities. With work taking up so much of our time, the pressure to improve our health can feel mentally draining long before any physical attempts.
In Manoeuvre, Bingyi exaggerates these limited and unrealistic expectations through reverse running, forcing his body to be manipulated by the machine. Through making himself passive to the programme, his body becomes both uncontrollable, and intensely controlled, reflecting how societal systems impact the choices available to us.
With people looking for motivation, routine and health in this mechanised mode of exercise, are we being encouraged to become as disciplined as machines? If so, how could this affect our relationship to creativity and self-expression? Perhaps we should be running towards something else…
Continuous Screening of Manoeuvre
Manoeuvre is the opening piece for Beyond Breaking Point, and will be screening here continuously throughout the programme, showing how physical and mental exhaustion often bubble just under the surface.