Category Archives: CONCEPT RESEARCH

Eye of Providence – all seeing eye

In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned that the downward-pointing triangle carved from the tree (during my experimentation), also acted as an eye.  To explain further, the tree’s ‘eye’ acted as a witness to my subsequent actions of burning the removed bark – symbolizing an offering up of the tree’s life-force or immortality.  This could be construed as a rather torturous and cruel procedure – if one was to consider the tree as a living being.  However, as I was alone during the performance (referencing the idea of female segregation during initiation and rites of passage), the tree was my only witness.

This reminded me of the symbol of the Eye of Providence or all seeing eye – particularly the eye within an upward-pointing triangle, used by early Christians to not only symbolize the eye of God but to represent the trinity:

All Seeing Eye. Image taken from page 4 of Barber, A. H. (2006) Celestial Symbols. USA: Horizon Publishers
All Seeing Eye. Image taken from page 25 of Barber, A. H. (2006) Celestial Symbols. USA: Horizon Publishers

Although the symbol of the eye predated Christ, as well as relating to other religions and fraternities including the Masons and Mormons,  I felt that the triangular symbol had particular relevance to my own project.

The all seeing eye with regard to Christianity, symbolizes the all seeing eye of God i.e. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good – Proverbs 15:3” (Barber, 2006, p24).

With this in mind, similarly to St Peter’s cross which is the upside down crucifx which has been adopted by anti-Christian movements, the downward pointing triangle used in my performance, could be seen as a direct rebellion against “God”, particularly as the ritualistic symbology of the performance also leans toward Paganism.  Therefore, the performance could not only be seen as an act against nature, but also an act against “God” – taking vengeance against these ‘higher powers’, for all that women have suffered throughout history and perhaps – if one were to believe – tracing this back to the original sin and punishment of Eve:

Genesis – Unto the woman God said, ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee’ (Berger, chapter 1, 1972)

In John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, the woman’s position is further highlighted by the “striking fact that the woman is blamed and punished by being made subservient to the man” (Berger, chapter 1, 1972).

fall and expulsion
Fall & Expulsion from Paradise by Pol de Limbourg, Early 15th Century. Image taken from Chapter 1 of Berger, J. () Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

On reading Ways of Seeing, one can see through Berger’s commentary on art, how women have been portrayed throughout history – being objects of pleasure to the spectator, being perceived as inferior to men, taking the blame for being spectated i.e. acknowledging one’s own beauty – ideas of vanity – leaving the spectator blameless and the idea of women surveying themselves and judging themselves by surveying others.

These writings are extremely relevant to my project, as they link Eve’s sin and punishment, right through to how women are perceived today and the expectations placed upon them to behave and present themselves in a certain way.

Although this should not be the case – especially considering the rise of feminism in the 1970s and equal rights to women and men, unfortunately, the media continues to put pressure on women to attain and maintain youthful looks and beauty.

References:

Barber, A. H. (2006) Celestial Symbols. USA: Horizon Publishers

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

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Contextualization: Branding/Stigmatizing/Scarification

As mentioned in earlier posts, the experiments including the carving from a tree, were to demonstrate a symbolic taking of the trees life-force – it’s immortality i.e. by taking the bark – the tree’s protection, the tree became vulnerable.

Furthermore, it also occurred to me, that the reason why I was not just merely taking a random piece of bark from the tree but rather, carving out a downward pointing triangle, referencing the Yoni sacred feminine symbol, that by doing so, I was branding or stigmatizing the tree.

The tradition of human branding dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome, relating to ownership of slaves and livestock.  Interestingly, in ancient Greece, slaves were branded with “a Delta for doulos or slave” (DeMello, p45, 2007) which is the shape of the triangle: Δ

I feel that the delta triangle used as a sign of slavery or ownership is a fortunate coincidence with regard to my own work and although the upward and downward pointing triangle have different meanings, the idea of branding and ownership are extremely relevant in my concept.

As mentioned above and in previous posts, by removing the bark from the tree, I was taking something that was not mine to take, but by doing so, it could be said that I was taking ownership  of the tree’s life.

Furthermore, branding in Europe “was used to mark criminals, combining physical punishment, as burns are very painful, with public humiliation (which is greatest if marked on a visible part of the body), and the permanent marking of criminal status” (DeMello, p45, 2007).

In my earlier post, I had highlighted the idea of the “retribution of Eve” – the taking back of immortality that was lost through the Original Sin.  In this respect, there is a sense of visible punishment inflicted upon the tree and the “wound” which was left on the tree, did indeed look fairly brutal:

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Image of “branded” or “stigmatized” tree from experimentation

This also brings to mind the ritual of scarification, where the skin is cut or branded with a hot iron to produce raised scars:

Scarification has been widely used by many West African tribes to mark milestone stages in both men and women’s lives, such as puberty and marriage. It is also used to transmit complex messages about identity, such as social, political, and religious roles (Boundless Learning, 2013, online).

In West Africa, scarification is also used to make a women more appealing to men:

Facial scarification in West Africa is used for identification of ethnic groups, families, individuals, but also to express personal beauty. It is also performed on girls to mark stages of the life process, such as puberty, marriage etc. They can assist in making them more attractive to men, as the scars are regarded as appealing to touch as well as to look at, but also as testimony that women will be able to withstand the pain of childbirth (Coleman, 2002, online).

Again, there is this idea of a woman having to make herself “more attractive” which could link to the idea of women having to undergo some kind of suffering to be accepted – which in turn could link to the story of Eve in the garden of Eden and subsequently, the perception of women over the centuries right through to the present day.

African Woman with facial scarification. Image taken from: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2004/10/photogalleries/africa_faces/photo4.html
African Woman with facial scarification. Image taken from: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2004/10/photogalleries/africa_faces/photo4.html

These “stages” or rites of passage, remind me of my initial research of Mircea Eliade’s book Rites and Symbols of Initiationwhich discusses the initiation rituals of primitive religions.

However, scarification has also become popular in some Western societies – not only as a body adornment but, as with with indigenous tribal rituals, members of groups – such as gangs and fraternities use scarification in initiations to demonstrate they’re part of a particular group.  This again brings to mind my earlier research with regard to the lack of  rituals in the West:

Underlying the surface structures of schools, fraternities, sororities, maternity groups, military organizations, street gangs, rap bands, crack houses, meditation centers, and prisons lie the bones and sinews of initiatory rites and symbols (Eliade, p9, 2012).

To summarize, the idea of branding and scarification not only relates to my research and proposal of experimenting with ritual and ceremony in performance art, but also to ownership and modification.  Indeed, the ritual of scarification could perhaps be likened to today’s obsession with beauty and the extremes people will go to, just to be accepted within society – submitting under pressure to be part of the gang!

References:

Boundless Learning (2013) The Rite of Passage [online] Boston: Boundless Learning Inc. Available from: https://www.boundless.com/art-history/africa-in-the-modern-period/traditional-and-contemporary-african-culture-a-comparison/the-rite-of-passage/ (accessed on 02/12/2013)

Coleman, M. (2002) Scarification [online] Durham: Artworld: WorldArt. Available from: http://artworld.uea.ac.uk/home/introduction (accessed on 02/12/2013)

DeMello, M. (2007) Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. USA: Greenwood Press

Eliade, M. (2012: Revised Printing) Rites & Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth & Rebirth. New York: Spring Publications, Inc.

Lane-Miller, C. (2010) Faces of Africa: Photo Gallery. Washinton, DC: National Geographic Society. Available from: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2004/10/photogalleries/africa_faces/photo4.html (accessed on 02/12/2013)

Experimentation: The Tree of Immortality

After considering my research in the symbolic meaning of the tree, I decided to develop my ideas from my findings.

In the book of Genesis, Eve is tempted by the serpent (the Devil) into eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, even though God forbid doing so.  In Christian theology, by eating from the tree, Eve and subsequently Adam, lost their immortality, became imperfect, sinful and began to grow old.

I feel I could use this idea of taking from the tree and notions of immortality in my performance.  I could take something from the tree to represent the idea of taking it’s life-source for myself.  In this respect, I would be giving in to the pressures to remain youthful and taking something which is not mine to take – much like Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Similarly, it would therefore be a selfish, narcissistic act.

With this is mind, I thought about what I could take from a tree which would symbolise its life-force. I felt that the significant thing would be the tree’s bark because the bark of the tree protects the inner phloem layer – the tree’s living tissue which carries nutrients throughout the tree and acts much like a skin on the tree.  Without bark, the tree would die – lose it’s immortality, so to speak.

I decided that I would take a very small section of surface bark from a tree, as to not cause permanent injury to the tree and would cut deep into the bark, as I would not want to damage the cambium which is “responsible for the healing of the tree” (Evans, 2013, online).

Image of cross-section of tree, Available at: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/text/tree_anatomy.html
Image of cross-section of tree, Available at: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/text/tree_anatomy.html

To represent the female element of my performance, I decided that I would take a downward pointing triangle shape from the tree’s bark to symbolize the Yoni.

Following my last experimentation with burning the beauty products, I thought it would create a more symbolic presence, to burn the bark which I had removed.  This would demonstrate a sacrifice of the tree’s immortality and my embodiment of it’s life-force.

I obviously, did not want to do this performance a large number of times, as I did not want to cause damage to several trees, so, unfortunately, there were some things I would change in the original film:

Image of Tree with Yoni Symbol - click on image to view film
Image of Tree with Yoni Symbol – click on image to view film
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Image of Yoni symbol carved from tree

After watching the film back, I was slightly annoyed that the camera wasn’t focussed very well and also because the bark and ground was damp, the bark would not light (even with the addition of a small amount of lighter fluid.

I also felt that it perhaps needed more of a ‘beginning’ to the ritual, as opposed to cutting into the tree straight away.  Perhaps, I should consider using the Yoni gesture I had developed as a way of beginning and ending the performance.

Furthermore, I was disappointed that I did not have the film finishing with just an image of the carved tree – so that there would be some similar comparison from beginning and end i.e. te film starts with just the tree and would have worked better to finish with just the tree.

Reference:

Evans, E. (2013) Tree Anatomy. North Carolina: NC State University. Available from: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/text/tree_anatomy.html (accessed on 25/11/2013)

Ideas: The Sacred Tree

Following my initial experimentation, I felt that perhaps, it was too literal to use beauty products in my work.

I again thought about the idea of nature being preserved and valued as it ages, whereas the aging woman in today’s youth obsessed culture, is disregarded – particularly in the media, where aging is seen as a negative occurrence.

With this in mind, I considered my own religious Christian upbringing and the significance of the tree – particularly in the book of Genesis with the story of the Tree of Knowledge, which Adam and Eve were not permitted to eat from.

Furthermore, it called to mind Anna Mendieta’s work and Mircea Eliade’s writings about girls (during their puberty rites) retreating to a dark place that represented the womb of rebirth – this could be a cave, a hut or a hollow tree.

Image of hollow tree
Image of hollow tree

Thinking about the tree, as it ages, it is seen as a symbol of wisdom and strength, as well as playing ‘an important cultural, spiritual and recreational role in many societies. In some cases, they are integral to the very definition and survival of indigenous and traditional cultures’ (UNEP, 2013 online).

Trees are also seen as a symbol of immortality (e.g. the Tree of Life described in Genesis 3:21-24) and fertility (e.g the ancient Canaanite Goddess Asherah, the Egyptian Goddesses Hathor and Isis have been depicted as trees and symbolize fertility) (Lanfer, 2012 p36).

Image of Ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor taken from p185 of Remler, P. (2010) Egyptian Mythology, Infobase Publishing
Image of Ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor taken from p185 of Remler, P. (2010) Egyptian Mythology. New York: Infobase Publishing

Although some of these ideas may seem examples of ‘ancient’ beliefs – today, trees are preserved, respected and valued as they age, as well as playing an important factor in human existence.

With these points in mind, I felt that the use of a tree in my performance would be extremely relevant to the following ideas:

  • the tree is a symbol of immortality: whereas growing older is a sign of mortality: according to the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve lost their immortality when eating from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil;
  • the tree can symbolize fertility: a young woman is the epitome of fertility, whereas an older woman is seen as becoming less and less fertile as she ages;
  • an aging tree suggests strength and wisdom, and is valued and respected; in today’s media driven society, youth is suggested as being more valuable – beauty advertisements focus on the superficial – promising youthful results to women.

I feel these ideas could strengthen and support my concept and performance development further.

References:

Lanfer, P.T. (2012) Remembering Eden: The Reception History of Genesis 3: 22-24. New York: Oxford University Press

United Nations Environmental Programme (2013) Trees & Humanity [online]. Germany: UNEP. Available from: http://www.plant-for-the-planet-billiontreecampaign.org/GetInvolved/TreesAndHumanity.aspx (accessed on 24/11/2013)

Remler, P. (2010) Egyptian Mythology. New York: Infobase Publishing

 

Experimentation: “Age is a work of Art” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

For my performance, I tried to think of ways to incorporate the idea of letting things go or leaving things behind – in terms of embracing the aging process, instead if trying to hold onto youth.

I thought about the beauty products I had accumulated over the years and the fact that although they were anti-aging products, they all were labelled with expiration dates i.e. expires “12M” – 12 months.

With this in mind, I decided to try to develop some kind of burial or cremation ceremony for the products and by doing so, I would be alluding to the idea of ending my quest for remaining youthful and therefore moving forward in life.

In my earlier post, I had described my development of a Yoni symbolic gesture, where I would mark out the basic Yoni symbol on my upper chest and shoulders.

I had also considered whether or not to use a mantra while making the gesture.  I decided that I would try using a mantra, to see if I felt it would work or not.  After researching poems and prayers, I decided not to make up my own mantra but to use a Stanislaw Jerzy Lec quote.  Jerzy Lec was a Polish Post World War II influential poet and aphorist.  I chose the quote because not only did it mention ‘age’ in a positive light but also was relevant to my other ideas relating to ‘youth’ and ‘nature’:

Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art (Eyers, 2012, p31).

I chose the quote because not only did it mention ‘age’ in a positive light but also was relevant to my other ideas relating to ‘youth’ and ‘nature’.

I then considered the beauty products again and thought about the lengths people go to, to remain youthful – even though they could be potentially damaging.  I researched the ingredients of anti-aging products to see if they were safe or toxic and potentially dangerous.  Following my research, I found that there were several ingredients which – if exposed to at high levels, were linked to cancer, liver failure and paralysis etc (Hubpages, 2011, online).  I felt that I could incorporate this into my performance and relate it to the expiration of the products – the word ‘expiration’ linked to death.

I decided that burying the products would perhaps be too literal, so decided to throw the products into an open fire.  I waited until evening, as I felt that the fire against the darkness of night, would create a more sombre ritualistic atmosphere, with the products burning up in sacrificial smoke.

After several attempts the result was as follows:

ritual fire
Click on Image to view film.

Although I feel the piece has a ceremonial nature, I still think that perhaps it is too literal and that I could be potentially scaremongering unnecessarily.  I think I need to consider other ways of developing my concept, to give it deeper meaning and create a more thought provoking piece.  Furthermore, I am unsure on whether vocalizing a mantra is necessary – I felt that it may come across too forced and factitious.

Reference:

Eyers, K. et al (2012) Managing Depression: Growing Older. Hove: Routledge

Hubpages (2011) Common toxic ingredients in skincare and cosmetics to avoid. San Francisco: Hubpages, Inc. Available from: http://treechange.hubpages.com/hub/COMMON-TOXIC-INGREDIENTS-IN-SKIN-CARE-AND-COSMETICS-TO-AVOID (accessed on 24/11/2013)

Research – Wasted Beauty

As mentioned in earlier posts, the theme I wish to develop in my performance work, relates to the pressures placed on women in the Western world (by the media) to stay youthful – in terms of looks and beauty and the negativity toward the aging process.  In this case the superficial has become more valued than the inner self.

I, myself have succumbed to the pressures to stay young and have been seduced by the promises of miracle anti-aging, anti-cellulite and bust firming creams etc.  However, as I have realized, these products are more or less empty promises, with clever marketing and attractive packaging and the aging process is inevitable.

In fact, the evidence of how well cosmetic and beauty companies have marketed their products, can be seen in my bathroom cabinet – where tubes and tubs of cream – barely used, have accumulated over the years.

This led me to an article called Wasted Beauty: Packaging in the cosmetics industry, 2013, by Rachel England:

The dozens of bottles and tubs adorning our bathroom shelves are made of increasingly scarce resources, and despite our best intentions, many of them are destined for landfills (England, 2013).

wastedbeauty
Image taken from: England, R. (2013) Wasted beauty: Packaging in the cosmetics industry. Bristol: Resource Media Ltd. Available from: http://www.resource.uk.com/article/Packaging/Wasted_beauty_Packaging_cosmetics_industry#.Un1X8tvKcpJ

England further highlights the irony of how these products promising to make one youthful and beautiful are actually making the environment ugly:

Foraying into the world of lotions and potions that make promises to de-wrinkle, soften, illuminate, glossify, plump and so on, it becomes apparent that this market is creating a lot of ugly waste in the name of beauty (England, 2013).

The article details the shocking amount of cosmetic packaging which is not recycled or is unrecyclable:

Euromonitor reports that in 2008, the cosmetics industry created 120.8 billion units of packaging. Forty per cent of this was, as you might expect, rigid plastic (of varying plastic types, serving only to confuse consumers who would actively seek to recycle it). In the UK, this figure stands at around 55 per cent (England, 2013).

As my previous post discussed, I am interested in the difference of how nature is revered, protected and seen as something valuable and beautiful as it ages, whereas today’s youth-obsessed culture sees aging – particularly directed at women, as something negative.

However, in this instance, the cosmetic industry is taking advantage of the “appearance-centric world” (England 2013) – producing attractive packaging to entice the consumer, with little thought to the environmental impact.  Although, as the article discusses, some companies are making changes to their products to make them more environmentally friendly, “let’s hope, that the thousands of beauty products that promise to slow down the aging process will eventually be packaged in such a way as to slow down the wasting process, too” (England, 2013).

Reference:

England, R. (2013) Wasted beauty: Packaging in the cosmetics industry. Bristol: Resource Media Ltd. Available from: http://www.resource.uk.com/article/Packaging/Wasted_beauty_Packaging_cosmetics_industry#.Un1X8tvKcpJ (accessed on 11/11/2013)

Ideas/Development: The Sacred Feminine

Following my research into Mircea Eliade’s studies on ritual and my investigation into female performance art, I feel it would be important to develop my ideas on how/where my ritual performance would take place.

As mentioned previously, I wish to create a performance piece based on the expectations women face as they get older – where media focuses on youth and beauty and age is seen negatively – what with so many different “anti-aging” or “age-defying” products.

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Images of Anti-Aging Product Displays, 2013

I wish to create something which would represent the female, as well as being of a sacred and spiritual nature.  I feel after looking into female performance artists such as Hannah Wilke, as well as the ideas of objectification of the female body and articles relating to feminism – that nudity could perhaps be misconstrued (i.e. Hannah Wilke) and could distract from whatever statement I wish to make.  I do not wish the naked form to be the focus of the performance and really, feminism should be about freedom of choice of how I wish to present myself.

Following my readings of Mirea Eliade’s Rites and Symbols of Initiation (1958), there was mention of youths dancing in triangular shaped sacred areas.  Furthermore, during puberty rites, girls were segregated from the community and retreated to the symbolic womb.

With this is mind, I feel that I could instead represent the feminine by using symbols to suggest ideas of the female presence.  I feel that symbols can subtly communicate ideas without the use of words and symbols can also be seen as a more universal language – often having the same meaning for a wider audience.

These writings reminded me of the Yoni symbol which represents the sacred feminine:

From earliest times, humanity has found visual expression for the cosmic forces of creation, birth, and passion in artistic representations of human genitalia. Fertility cults centered on phallic worship are well documented, but older and even more pervasive are Goddess images of the vulva-known in the East since ancient times as the yoni. Yoni symbolism is a part of spiritual traditions in every part of the globe-from naturally occuring rock formations revered by North American Native peoples to the shakta-pithas of Hindu temples, and from early Celtic sheela-na-gig carvings to the Japanese kagura ritual.
The Yoni traces this primal motif in Australian Aboriginal folk tales, in alchemy, in Tantric practices, and in contemporary art by painters such as Georgia O’Keefe and Judy Chicago (Camphausen, 1996).

books
Front cover image of Camphausen, R. C. (1996) Yoni: Sacred Symbol of Female Creative Power
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Photo: © Aislinn Weidele for Polshek Partnership Architects. Image Available from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party/
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974–79. Photo: © Aislinn Weidele for Polshek Partnership Architects. Image Available from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party/

There are many variations of the Yoni symbol but I feel the simplest and perhaps more recognised would be the downward-pointing triangle which is also representational of the womb.

The downward-pointing triangle is a female symbol corresponding to the yoni (Walker, 2013)

Therefore the downward-pointing triangle could also relate to the sacred place, as per the place of death and rebirth discussed in Eliade’s writings with regard to female rituals.

Furthermore, the downward-pointing triangle is also the alchemical symbol of earth and water “traditionally seen as…receptive and feminine” (Ardinger, 2011).

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 16.24.00
Alchemical Symbols of the four elements. Heilbronner, E. (1998) Philatelic Ramble Through Chemistry. John Wiley & Sons (p3) 

With this in mind, I feel this is a relevant point because of the relation to ritual – particularly in Pagan terms with regard to the worship of nature.  As mentioned previously, rituals are practically non-existent in the Western world, however the rituals or festivities that do exist i.e. Easter and Christmas, although thought of as Christian festivities, there is some belief that these are pagan based i.e. Easter – the Anglo-Saxon pagan spring festival for the fertility goddess Eostre and Christmas – the ancient festival for the solstice feast of Mithras, the Roman god of light.

With all of the above points in mind,  I feel that the use of the Yoni symbol could be an excellent method of demonstrating the presence of the feminine in my work, as well as the link to the natural elements which are a strong factor in ancient ritual based practices.

This would also work well in demonstrating the negativity toward the aging process as per the artificial products and superficial pressures to stay young, as opposed to the reverence and conservation of nature.

References:

Ardinger, B. (2011) Practicing the Presence of the Goddess: Everyday Rituals to Transform Your World. California: New World Library.

Camphausen, R. C. (1996) Yoni: Sacred Symbol of Female Creative Power. India: Replika Press Pvt. Ltd.

Eliade, M. (2012) Rites & Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth & Rebirth. New York: Spring Publications, Inc.

Heilbronner, E. (1998) Philatelic Ramble Through Chemistry. Germany: John Wiley & Sons

Walker, B. (2013) The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. UK: Harper Collins