Existing in the Physical Body: Julianne Swartz’s Sine Body Blog Post by Julia Park

A few months ago, someone asked me the simple question, “What is the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning?” As I began to answer, I realized the discrepancy between what I wish I did when I awake in the morning and what I actually do first thing in the morning. Ideally, I would lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and breathe, allowing my body to begin to process the sensations of waking. In reality, I reach straight for my phone and immediately begin scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, rapidly attempting to absorb a stream of information that becomes muddled in my half-conscious mind.

Moving further into my day, there is always something on which to be focused. When it is not infinite obligations, we turn to the endless hole of the internet and cell phones to fill the silence. As a result, I do not know what it feels like to simply exist in my body anymore. My mind and body feel fragmented. When was the last time you sat and did nothing? When was the last time you existed and felt the sensations that come with existing in a human body?

Photo: Meghan Marchetti

The fast-paced nature of our society has changed the way in which we connect to others and to the world around us. Julianne Swartz’s Sine Body, currently on view as part of Hedges, Edges, Dirt at the ICA, taps into the more important disconnect, the one between our physical bodies and ourselves. Sine Body consists of glass and ceramic vessels, crafted by Swartz herself, which are carefully positioned atop elevated wooden structures, both on the walls and the floor of the ICA’s Gallery Three. The vessels seem to be frozen in motion, squished and indented, almost resembling human forms. A tangle of copper wire feeds from each vessel, forming a mass in the middle before feeding through the wooden plinth.

Standing in the gallery with Sine Body is a little uncomfortable. Pure sine waves recorded by Swartz echo throughout the space. The tones start off low and quiet, a manageable sound. Then they mount and mount, the separate strands of sound coming together in an overwhelming crescendo. The moment is a little hard to bear; it almost overwhelms.

Julianne Swartz, Sine Body, 2017. Blown glass, unglazed porcelain, electronics, and sound generated from the objects, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Josee Bienvenu Gallery. Photo: David Hale

Co-existing with the vessels is strange because it is an experience to which we are not accustomed. In the moment of discomfort, I feel every part of my body. I am almost painfully aware of every innard, limb, and extremity. It is a full sensory experience of the body, which I have not felt in a while.

During the opening of Hedges, Edges, Dirt, Swartz activated the vessels with the help of the ICA’s lead preparator and sound artist Andrew Clifford. The two used homemade electronic devices, resembling wands, to coax the highly reflective ceramic and glass into creating resonance and emitting unique sine waves. Experiencing it in real time, with a group of people, was an interesting exercise. I watched as others around me were drawn more firmly and fully into the space around all of us. One woman winced in slight discomfort and closed her eyes. The sounds left the Sine Body vessels, oscillated off the walls, and returned to bounce around within my own body. I could tell that others were sensing something similar; an incident of full, slightly painful awareness.

Photos by Meghan Marchetti

Through time with Swartz’s work, I have realized that an internal boundary exists between myself and my own body. Simply existing in the body is something which has become foreign to me and many people I know. This cannot be a good thing. The body is the vessel that houses me and my consciousness just as Swartz’s vessels house their tones; I should have a connection and comfort within it: no boundaries. By sitting with Swartz’s art, her fantastic and beautiful vessels, we can be drawn into existing in and fully inhabiting our own bodies.


Julia Park is a senior at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and intern in the ICA Curatorial Department. She is a Richmond, Virginia native. Julia dabbles in studio art, but her greatest interest lies in art facilitation, appreciation, and commentary. She is also passionate about plant-based food and wild jewelry.

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