Tag Archives: Ritual

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.


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:

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: 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
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.


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.


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)

Ideas: Blessing Ritual

Following my first experimentation, I felt that perhaps the actions were too literal to the concept.

I also felt that there needed to be more of a ceremonial nature to the performance as opposed to just doing something with no obvious beginning or end.

This led me to thinking about religious rituals and the symbolic, recognisable movements involved – particularly in Christianity – namely to bless oneself my marking out the cross on the body.

The crossing oneself gesture is carried out to bless oneself, others and objects or to begin and end ceremonies and prayers.  It also be done while naming the Trinity as follows:

  • use the right hand fingertips to touch the forehead and say “in the name of the Father;
  • touch the sternum and say “the Son”;
  • touch the left shoulder and say “and the holy”;
  • touch the right shoulder and say “Spirit.
Image of Crossing of Blessing Oneself in Christianity
Image of Crossing or Blessing Oneself in Christianity

After considering this, I thought about how I could develop my own symbolic gesture which would be in keeping with my ideas.

As mentioned in previous posts, I have researched and experimented with using the Yoni symbol – the sacred feminine symbol (the downward pointing symbol).  I felt the most simple and effective way of using this symbol would be to adjust the crossing of oneself as follows:


I feel that if I incorporated this into my performance in some way, it would perhaps make the audience recall the crossing oneself gesture, which in turn would indicate that the performance was implying a ceremonial ritual practice.

I am using the Yoni sign because my concept is predominately focused on the female and by marking out the Yoni symbol on myself, the audience will hopefully get an indication of this.

Also, in line with my concept, the gesture will be carried out in a clockwise direction to emphasize the idea of the cycle of life – of moving forward and therefore growing older.

I am however, unsure of whether I want to develop a mantra to speak while making the gesture.

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).
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:

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.