Tag Archives: Context

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.

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/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.

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:

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Click on image to watch film

moors02moors03moors04moors05

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.

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.

Rites & Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth & Rebirth

The following is a list of useful quotes for my research from Mircea Eliade’s book Rites & Symbols of Initiation – The Mysteries of Birth & Rebirth.  Eliade (1907-1986) was a Romanian philosopher, historian of religion and Professor of Chicago University.

The quotes I have specifically chosen relate to why I would be interested in the topic of  birth and rebirth – in terms of ritual, the reasons why these rituals could be important in today’s society – where in the Western world they are “practically nonexistent” (Eliade, p17, 2012) and the purpose they serve.

The edition I am using is a 2012 revised edition with foreword written by Michael Meade an author and scholar of mythology, anthropology and psychology who considers Eliade’s Haskell Lectures in 1956 at Chicago University (which the book represents) to still have relevance in modern day society and feels there is a need to learn from the past to move forward:

Mircea Eliade fervantly worked at keeping the doors of perception open to the world of sacred symbols and creative ritual…There may be no time more suited to the study of rites of passage than the threshold between the end of modernity and the uncertain future of humanity.  As an old proverb reminds us: “We can only see as far forward as we remember back.”  The future is contained in the past; and the past is carried within us like seeds of memory waiting for the waters of attention. (Eliade, p6, 2012)

In this respect Eliade’s view was that there is a need to look back to ancestral rituals of birth and death in terms of “change and renewal” (Eliade, p6, 2012) and learn how these rituals benefited the community or individual.

it is only in initiation that death is given a positive value.  More than an empty tomb, death becomes also the womb of change.  In dreams and dramas of initiation, death represents change for the entire psyche and life of a person.  It means change inside and out,not simple adaptation or switch in “life style”.  Initiation includes death and rebirth, a radical altering of a person’s “mode of being”Without conscious rituals of loss and renewal, individuals and societies lose the capacity to experience the sorrows and joy that are essential for feeling fully human(Eliade, p8, 2012)…

When rites of passage disappear from conscious presentation, they nonetheless appear in unconscious and semiconscious guises.  They surface as misguided and misinformed attempts to change one’s own life.  They become miscarriages of meaning, tragic acts, or empty forms and ghostly shapes.  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. Whenever life gets stuck or reaches a dead end, where people are caught in rites of addiction, possessed by destructive images, compelled to violent acts, or pulled apart by grief and loss, the process of initiation presses to break through… (Eliade, p9, 2012)

Learning the language of initiation means finding in the inevitable struggles of our own lives “certain types of real ordeals…the spiritual crises, the solitude and despair through which every human being must pass in order to attain to a responsible, genuine and creative life (Eliade, p10, 2012).

In such moments of total crisis, only one hope seems to offer any issue – the hope of beginning life over again (Eliade, p14, 2012).

I am particularly interested in the differences between the male and female initiation rituals.   During puberty rites, “boys often get called to initiatory events as part of a group”, whereas girls often begin their “rite of passage individually”:

When the daughter of the tribe temporarily separates from the village, she becomes a fetus in the womb of Mother Nature. She enters a time of segregation and isolation in darkness that represents a return to the womb.  Dwelling in the dark may occur in a cave, a hut with no windows or within the hollow enclosure of a sacred tree.  Each daughter must find a mysterious and unique connection to the darkness from which all life originates.  The hollow tree stands symbolically as a tomb in which the daughter disappears and as a womb of the tree of life from which the woman will step(Eliade, p13, 2012).

So, in this instance, retreating to the symbolic womb represents the death of a one’s old self and on leaving the symbolic womb, the individual is reborn as their new self and celebrated back within the community.

Furthermore, with regard to girls’ puberty rites, “during the period of seclusion the novices learn…specifically feminine skills” (Eliade, p85, 2012).  I personally feel that this ancestral ritual of learning “feminine skills” is outdated and merely serving to the antiquated idea of the stereotypical perception of how a women should behave and what is expected of them.

However, with these quotes in mind, I feel that the idea of performing a ritual to leave one’s old self behind, is a useful form of moving forward in life and can see how they would be helpful in today’s society.

Reference:

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

Interrobang?! Questions

Questions/Statements of Intent for Practice:

Q1) Medium:

Although I have been recently working in film, I am interested in performance art and ways of documenting it i.e. video, photographs, objects and written dialogue.

Q2) Concept:

Emotional well-being and compartmentalising worries and concerns have factored in recent work.  I would like to take this forward and investigate ways of emotionally moving forward and leaving the past behind by developing ritualistic performances – perhaps using my own biographical experiences to create a sense of rebirth.

Q3) Context:

Although I would like to experiment with performance art, I feel that perhaps this will be personal performances as opposed to public and therefore, I shall have to think about ways of documenting this.  I also think that because of the personal nature, I will have to consider timing and where this will take place i.e. possibly outside, somewhere deserted – empty – peaceful, particularly if I am to perform some kind of ritual.

Q4) Creative Aspirations:

I hope to develop some performance work and/or installation following my research development.