Tag Archives: Beauty

Performance Assistant: Jem Williams, Vibrate, 2014

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)


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:

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!


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: “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.


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)

Initial Experimentation

Following my research, I tried out some initial experimental performance work on my own, using the unused beauty products I have accumulated over the past few years.

I wanted to show a difference between the natural and superficial, so decided to experiment out on the moors – somewhere which is practically unspoilt by man, with little human intervention to the landscape.  Therefore, this area would be in complete contrast with the man-made products used to create superficial beauty. Furthermore, being away from the city would highlight the element of segregation used in ritual.

In the film, I placed the beauty products on the grassland and started to draw the Yoni symbol around the tubes and bottles using their contents*.

The concept behind this idea was to make a satirical statement about how it could be said that youth and beauty have become idealized and the products idolized – taking on a ‘holy grail’ aura, so to speak – the antidote to the aging process.  Therefore the Yoni symbol was used to ridicule the  idea of these items being a necessity or ‘sacred’ to a women if she wishes to be valued in society.

Helanie Moore, 2013, Film and Stills of Initial Performance Experimentation:

Click on image to watch film


On watch the film back, I felt negatively critical of the piece for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I felt unconfident of my appearance – which is quite shallow, considering I am trying to make a statement about the expectations placed on how one should appear.  Secondly, it was not obvious what the products were and even if it had been, the use of beauty products was perhaps too literal.  Thirdly, the end result seemed quite ugly – this could however, be a positive thing, as it is ironic that this products used to prevent aging and promising beauty, have become something of an eyesore on the natural environment.  Also, the weather wasn’t particularly great on the day of filming, which left the piece looking quite washed out and dull.

I will need to consider a way of presenting my ideas in a less literal way.  I will also need to experiment more in my performance, to gain more confidence in my actions, which will hopefully make a more believable piece – instead of looking awkward and uncomfortable.

*contents was substituted with biodegradable fluid to avoid damage – namely dairy cream which was removed after performance.

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).

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).


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.


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).

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.


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