Category Archives: IDEAS

Experimentation/Contextualization: “lest [she] reach out [her] hand and take of the tree of life and live forever” – Genesis 3:22

After my last experimentation, I decided there were a few things I wished to change and incorporate in my next performance.

In the previous piece, there was a lack of ‘beginning’ and therefore felt that I could use the Yoni gesture I had developed in my next performance – to indicate the start and end of the ritual.  The use of this ‘symbolic’ gesture would mark a sense of respect for what I was about to do and had done and also demonstrate a reverence for the feminine and to show that I was blessing myself in the ritual and therefore wishing to embody the tree’s life-force.  Again, there is a sense of narcissism and elevating oneself, in taking something that does not belong to me – similar to the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden.  However, I am suggesting that I am taking back the immortality that was lost by taking from the tree – in a sense, it is a ‘profane (as opposed to divine) retribution’ of Eve.

I mentioned previously that I would be fully clothed in my performances because I felt it was unnecessary and perhaps too obvious to be naked.  Again, in line with the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve saw their nakedness after eating from the tree, became ashamed and covered themselves.  Therefore, I do not feel it necessary to my concept to be naked, as I not only have freedom of choice but do not wish to present my body as an object to be judged.

However, I did decide to be barefoot in my performance, not only because I felt my footwear was distracting but because I wanted to have a physical connection to nature as this is an important factor in the performance.

I wore black in my performance, simply because it is the colour of ‘mourning’ in the Western world and I was suggesting the loss of the tree’s immortality.

The result was as follows:

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Click image to view film

After taking photographs and watching the footage back, I did feel a sense of guilt at damaging the tree for my own selfish desires.  Furthermore, this was emphasized more, when looking at the photographs of the damaged bark, that looked like barbaric wounds – similar to flesh wounds.  From this I could sense the life of the tree and a sense of pain.

039049056This further highlighted the religious and spiritual feeling that the performance had evoked within me.  After experiencing the guilt of taking something that was not mine to take, I decided that I would not carry out the performance again.

These feelings emphasized to me how damaging the empty quest for youth can be on one’s inner self and well being.  The aging process is inevitable and is impossible to reverse no matter how many products or how much surgery one has – these things are unimportant and only superficial.

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)

Ideas: Blessing Ritual

Following my first experimentation, I felt that perhaps the actions were too literal to the concept.

I also felt that there needed to be more of a ceremonial nature to the performance as opposed to just doing something with no obvious beginning or end.

This led me to thinking about religious rituals and the symbolic, recognisable movements involved – particularly in Christianity – namely to bless oneself my marking out the cross on the body.

The crossing oneself gesture is carried out to bless oneself, others and objects or to begin and end ceremonies and prayers.  It also be done while naming the Trinity as follows:

  • use the right hand fingertips to touch the forehead and say “in the name of the Father;
  • touch the sternum and say “the Son”;
  • touch the left shoulder and say “and the holy”;
  • touch the right shoulder and say “Spirit.
Image of Crossing of Blessing Oneself in Christianity
Image of Crossing or Blessing Oneself in Christianity

After considering this, I thought about how I could develop my own symbolic gesture which would be in keeping with my ideas.

As mentioned in previous posts, I have researched and experimented with using the Yoni symbol – the sacred feminine symbol (the downward pointing symbol).  I felt the most simple and effective way of using this symbol would be to adjust the crossing of oneself as follows:

yoni

I feel that if I incorporated this into my performance in some way, it would perhaps make the audience recall the crossing oneself gesture, which in turn would indicate that the performance was implying a ceremonial ritual practice.

I am using the Yoni sign because my concept is predominately focused on the female and by marking out the Yoni symbol on myself, the audience will hopefully get an indication of this.

Also, in line with my concept, the gesture will be carried out in a clockwise direction to emphasize the idea of the cycle of life – of moving forward and therefore growing older.

I am however, unsure of whether I want to develop a mantra to speak while making the gesture.

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

Initial Ideas for Performance

On considering Mircea Eliade’s writings on rituals, I think the idea of the symbolic womb representing death and rebirth should remain an important factor in my own performance piece – although retreating to a cave (to represent the womb) is perhaps impractical.  I will therefore, look to different ways of representing the symbolic womb.

I also feel that the my performance piece should be carried out in solitude – similarly to ancestral girls’ rites of initiation.  I think that because it would be a ritual of some personal importance to myself, it would be more appropriate for it to be done without an audience.  However, I could document the performance by filming it, which could then be viewed by others.

With regard to ideas of what I would be metaphorically leaving behind during the performance ritual – I feel that it could be something to do with the superficial expectations I feel pressured to live up to – particularly as I am no longer in my twenties and feeling that I am somehow clinging on to the past – to youth because of vanity and ideas of worthiness and acceptance in society.  I think this issue is not just something exclusive to myself and that many women perhaps feel pressured by the media etc to look or act a certain way – even in today’s society media still focusses on beauty and youth, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy.