Tag Archives: Nature

Open Call Artist Research: Naoko Ito

During my artist research into landscape, preservation and nostalgia I came across Tokyo born, New York based artist Naoko Ito and her pieces which were included in an exhibition at CAM Raleigh, New York in 2011 called Urban Nature.  In this work Ito explored the themes of how nature is presented in urban areas, how a society with limited access to the wild view nature and how they find ways of preserving or containing it within an urban environment.

In some of the works Ito has stacked up glass jars which contain and “preserve (…) segmented tree branches” on a concrete floor – juxtaposing manmade and natural objects.

Naoko Ito, 2009, Ubiquitous, Image available at: http://camraleigh.org/exhibitions/2011ito/itoubiquitous_w2-2/
Naoko Ito, 2009, Ubiquitous, Image available at: http://camraleigh.org/exhibitions/2011ito/itoubiquitous_w2-2/

In KV265, 2009 a video of green imagery and the sound of Ito playing Mozart’s twelve variations of Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman on the piano, is projected behind the stacked glass jarred piece Plight.

Naoko Ito, Plight, 2011 & KV265, 2009, Image available at: http://camraleigh.org/exhibitions/2011ito/itoplight_w2/
Naoko Ito, Plight, 2011 &
KV265, 2009, Image available at: http://camraleigh.org/exhibitions/2011ito/itoplight_w2/

The melody could perhaps seem familiar to the viewer as it sounds like childhood nursery rhymes and heightens a sense of “nostalgia” (CAM Raleigh, 2011).  The Gallery states that:

Ito considers this work to be a “treatment for winter depression;” filled with lovely scenes of green projected through jars, their final images distorted and dreamlike (…)  the dialogue between [both] works speak of summer and winter, growth and decline, joy and sadness (Ibid).

I felt really drawn to these pieces, particularly as the Hayward Curatorial Open Call Exhibition is touring to quite urban environments including Newcastle and Liverpool.  The idea of the viewer re-considering their landscape and presenting a sense of nostalgia as well as preservation appealed to me and my concept.  Similarly to Abigail Reynolds, the pieces create a sense of importance to society’s environment – something that one may take for granted.

Reference:

CAM Raleigh (2011) Naoko Ito: Urban Nature (online) New York: CAM Raleigh. Available at: http://camraleigh.org/exhibitions/2011ito/ (accessed on 21/02/2014)

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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.

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.

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

 

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:

moors01
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.

Artist Research: Ana Mendieta (1948-1985)

Mendieta was a Cuban-born American artist who blended performance, ritual and sculpture in her work which was often of an autobiographical nature – in terms of identity and cultural origin.

Her work was often influenced by her ancestral heritage including the religious beliefs of Santeria – a Cuban religion which is a blend of the Afro-Caribbean religion Yoruba and Roman Catholicism.  The religion heavily incorporates ritual, ceremony and sacrifice – allowing believers to become close to their gods.  Santeria is primarily a nature based religion – whereby all natural elements have a sacred  and spiritual elements.

An example of Mendieta’s work and connection to the spiritual can be seen in The Tree of Life, 1976 part of her Siluetas series. In the piece Mendieta can be seen covered in mud and grass, standing in front of a tree.  Mendieta almost disappears, as her covered body camouflages her against the tree and she becomes embodied by the tree.

Ana Mendieta, Tree of Life, 1976.  Image available from: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/tridar/ana.html
Ana Mendieta, Tree of Life, 1976. Image available from: http://www.angelfire.com/ia/tridar/ana.html

As mentioned above, nature plays an important part of the Santeria religion and “the tree of life symbol is popular in classic Mexican iconography” (Clar, 2006).  Therefore, Mendieta personifies the spirituality of the tree within this piece by becoming as one with the tree.

There are also feminist elements to the work with Mendieta’s stance comparable to the “goddess pose” with her arms held up with palms facing outwards – giving a sense of  “empowerment”.  Also, there is an idea of presenting the female body in a way that challenges the idealization of the female nude but also strengthens the idea of female strength and the feminine being  as the source of life.

I feel this is a useful and successful example of ritual based work – where the artist has used her culture and beliefs to connect herself with her ancestral heritage.  However, the piece could be interpreted in several ways , which leaves an ambiguity to the work.  Although there are some literal meanings in the work, unless one was to be informed of the spiritual elements of the work – they may not immediately be aware of this and see the work merely as a feminist piece – whereas this is possibly not what Mendieta had intended.  Having said this, because of the natural elements of the piece and the fact that Mendieta is almost disguised in the piece – becoming part of the sacred (the tree), there is an obvious hint toward the spiritual.

I feel that perhaps, my ideas are too literal and that I need to think outside the box, instead of thinking about the obvious and easy option.   If my work is too literal then the concept may become too transparent with no room for alternative interpretation.  There is also the fear that the work could become laughable which I am particularly concerned about with performance art.

Although, Mendieta’s work is of a personal nature, her pieces can be read universally and this is an important factor in performance work.  With this is mind, I do not want my work to be only relevant to myself.

Reference:

Clar, A. (2006) Ana Mendieta. Toledo: Clamor Magazine. Available from: http://clamormagazine.org/issues/38/people-web.php