Tag Archives: Performance Art

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.

References:

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)

 

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:

032
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)

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)

Artist Research: Marina Abramovic (1946-present)

Marina Abramovic is a Serbian born, revolutionary performance artist, who studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade and Zagreb and is now based in New York.

Abramovic has been performing since the earlier seventies up until the present day.  Her work explores the boundaries of the human body – pushing herself to the limit in terms of endurance, physical and emotional pain and even relinquishing all control of her self.

Her childhood and upbringing in Serbia also relate to her pieces – particularly with regard to control, willpower and sacrifice.  Her parents were part of the Communist Party and her grandparents were members of the Orthodox Church – her grandmother having a particular hatred for communism.  Of her upbringing, Abramovic recently stated during a 2010 interview:

everything in my childhood is about total sacrifice, whether to religion or to communism. This is what is engraved on me. This is why I have this insane willpower. My body is now beginning to be falling apart, but I will do it to the end.  I don’t care. With me it is about whatever it takes (O’Hagan, 2010).
With these ideas of sacrifice and religion, Abramovic’s performance art can be seen as ritualistic practices with elements of purification, repetition, duration, suffering and spirituality.
Two examples of ritual as performance can be seen in Rhythm 5, 1974 and Freeing the Mind, 1976.
Rhythm 5 was part of a series of four performances held in 1973-74.  During the performance Abramovic set fire to a five point star, created from petrol soaked woodchips, referencing the Communist star.  The fire and smoke evokes ideas of ritual – where fire is often used to cleanse the spirit.  She then proceeded to cut her nails and hair and throw them into the flames.  These small pieces of self were sacrificed into the political fires as a form of purification.  However, this was not enough for Abramovic, who then leapt into the centre of the burning star.  On landing, she fell unconscious due to the lack of oxygen and had to be saved – almost making the ultimate sacrifice for art.  
Marina Abramovich, 1974, Rhythm 5. Image taken from:
Marina Abramovich, 1974, Rhythm 5. Image taken from: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/5190
Freeing of the Memory, 1976 was part of three performances (Freeing of the Body, 1976 and Freeing of the Voice, 1976).  In Freeing of the Memory, Abramovic spoke individual words out loud – without repetition until her mind was exhausted of words after one and a half hours.  The piece presented the limitations of the artist’s mental endurance and brought to mind ideas of meditation – an emptying of the mind and spiritual unconsciousness.
There are many more examples of Abramovic’s work which I could reference with regard to ritual and may look into these further at a later date.  Furthermore, during my research of the artist I have found some useful points and inspirational quotes which could prove beneficial, especially if I wish to develop further in performance art – particularly with regard to confidence, presentation and the physical and spiritual elements:
Performance art is one of the most difficult art forms. The performance is really about presence.  If you escape presence your performance is gone. It is always you, the mind and the body.  You have to be in the here and now, one hundred percent.  If you’re not the public are like a dog, they sense the insecurity.  Then they just leave (Biesenbach, p211, 2010).
References:
Biesenbach, K. P. (2010) Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.
Marina Abramovic Institute (2013) Who is Marina Abramovic [online] New York: Marina Abramovic Institute. Available from: http://www.marinaabramovicinstitute.org/mai/mai/4 (accessed on 11/11/2013)
O’Hagen, S. (2010) Interview: Marina Abramovic [online]. London: The Guardian & Observer. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/oct/03/interview-marina-abramovic-performance-artist (accessed on 11/11/2013)
Spector, N. (2013) Marina Abramovic [online] New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Available from: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artwork/5190 (accessed on 11/11/2013)

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:

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.