How to create your own living diorama

By Liam O’Dell

When it comes to creating a work of performance art, sometimes it can be helpful to start with an image – and that image doesn’t have to be your typical, two-dimensional kind, either.

Martin O’Brien is an artist who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and in his work, he challenges the common representation of illness – through physical endurance, hardship and pain-based practices. He also looks to examine what it means to be born with a life-threatening condition, with cystic fibrosis having an average lifespan of 30 years.

In a workshop for members of the CRIPtic Creative Showcase, he showed attendees how to create a living diorama – that is, a live image which involves the person. Here, we share his tips to help you try out this exercise at home.

Relinquish the burden of sense: Martin used this phrase in the workshop to refer to the idea of forgetting ideas around sense or making sense. Instead, focus and experiment with the space around you, and your bodies.

Where to start? According to Martin, it’s starting with you. The diorama, he says, should be about you, and a version of you or who you are. Could the materials around you help to transform your body and the way you are dressed? Think about how clothes can cover your body.

Acknowledge the space: Run with your impulse, and think about textures, colours, sounds and smells you’d want to include in a space. If you’re presenting your diorama digitally, what does the camera see? Is it covered at all? Of course, a similar case applies to physical performances, too. What does a photographer, or even an audience member see? Do they see the full ‘picture’, as it were? Is there music? Consider the person and space together: How do the two interact? If there’s movement, is it repetitive?

There’s many questions listed above to start off your thought process, and who knows, it could then prompt further ideas around how to expand upon the live image. As Martin told us, spoken word or choreography could come out of the one single moment or a specific action within that could catch your attention, forming part of a wider piece of art or a performance. With anything creative, though, the rules can be rather loose, to allow for creative energies to flow freely, and so we certainly wouldn’t discourage you from trying something daring or unconventional as part of your diorama too. Sometimes the best ideas come from those kind of moments!

Good luck, and happy creating!

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