Jem Williams is a fellow peer on the BA (Hon) Fine Art, Critical & Curatorial Practices course at Plymouth College of Art. In her artist statement she explains her practice as follows:
I’m a conceptual artist based in the South West. I work with appropriation, post-production, photography, collage sound and video. Through my practice I explore ideas of sex, relationships and how we engage and respond to this. I utilise my own experiences and those of others to at first glance present half-truths, presenting the audience with a warped perception of who I am as a person. Often my work has humorous overtones, to enable the audience to connect with my work and release the often-overlooked melancholy elements of human nature and how we relate to one another (Williams, 2013).
For her CURA300 studio practice she decided to create a film/sound piece which would “question the development of sexual apparatus within contemporary society” (Williams, 2014). This piece had been inspired by conversations around the production of discreet sex toys which resembled beauty cosmetics. The reasoning behind producing these disguised adult toys is thought to be as a way of hiding the usage of such appliances from one’s partner. In Jem’s piece she had chosen to film a female performer undertaking the ritual of applying make-up, but replaced the mascara and lipstick for vibrators of a similar aesthetic to the cosmetics.
This concept particularly interested me as I had researched ritual and the pressures on women to remain beautiful with the use of cosmetics during my CURA301 project:
Furthermore, with regard to the sense of voyeurism within Jem’s concept, I had also looked at John Berger’s Ways of Seeing during my CURA302 project:
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 (Moore, 2013)
Myself and Jem had taken part in a performance workshop under the guidance of artist duo VestandPage in January 2014. Several months later Jem had asked whether I would be interested in being the performer in this particularly project as she understood I had an interest in performance art. Although I felt quite self-conscious during my own performance work in CURA301 (and during January’s workshop) I felt happy to assist Jem. I did not feel as much anxiety about undertaking another artist’s vision – whereas during my own performance pieces in CURA301, I had felt quite insecure about my own ideas and concepts.
On the day of filming, Jem with the assistance of Reiss Portman had set of the spare-room of their shared house with lighting equipment, camera, tripod, chair, table and mirror. Jem had asked me to bring my make-up, hair products and to wear black clothing. up to be something that looked very natural as opposed to orchestrated and not true to life i.e. waking up in the morning and throwing on a dressing gown as such. I arrived wearing a black, patterned long kimono, black vest and black jeans. Jem was happy with the kimono I was wearing and I advised her that I was happy to wear a vest, bra or neither. She wanted me to be as comfortable as possible and so we agreed with bra and kimono which seemed to give the most realistic and natural effect. I sat in front of the mirror with the camera facing me – slightly to my left.
On the first take, I was slightly shakey and had to stop, however Jem was not happy with how the camera had been set-up and repositioned it so it was more central and from a higher angle – looking down. During the second take there was a problem with sound coming from outside the house which distracted from the sound of the vibrations but I continued nonetheless and she managed to film the entire ‘ritual’ lasting approximately 12minutes. I tried to remain as natural as possible while substituting the lipstick and mascara for the vibrators and I think Jem was happy with the result.
From what I understand, Jem had to remove all of the sound from the film because the external sound was too distracting and stifled the sound of the vibrations. She decided to remove all of the audio, re-record the vibrations and overlay this new audio recording over the film. She also desaturated the film to greyscale.
I enjoyed assisting Jem Williams with her piece and look forward to viewing the finished result during PCA’s Summer Show from Wednesday 11 – 18 June 2014.
Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.
Moore, H. (2013) Eye of Providence – All Seeing Eye. [online] WordPress. Available at: https://helaniemoore.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/eye-of-providence-all-seeing-eye/ (accessed 02/06/2014)
Williams, J. (2013) About Me. [online]. WordPress. Available at: http://jemwilliamsartistascurator.wordpress.com/ (accessed 02/06/2014)
Williams, J. (2014) Ideas & Development. [online]. WordPress. Available at: http://jemwilliamsartistascurator.wordpress.com/category/cura-300/practice/ideas-development/ (accessed 02/06/2014)