The Body In Art


Using the body in art, a positive, or sexual?

I texted my partner the other day, asking how he'd react if I started self harming again, which then set off a whole chain of events that has set my mind into a hive ever since. He asked me if many adults self harmed, and I replied with yes, and people do start self harming as adults, it's not completely isolated to miserable teenagers.

By the time I went to bed all I could remember was work I did at university on the use and abuse of the body in art. I think Ron Athey, I think Frank B. (As an aside, if someone told me that I'd get to see a Franko B performance, I'd be rushing to the doctor for diazapam for the flight before anyone could blink). I think about a university project that I started and then became completely bastardized by the self harm community (I'm not angry, it was just interesting to watch things grow, tumblr, I blame you).

So, without letting any other secrets go, I'll begin.

Erin Veness

I began self harming around the age of 13, and it continued for roughly 10 years. I wouldn't go as far as to say I am recovered and i'mneverselfharmingagain, but it isn't a big part of my life anymore. I have scars, they aren't the worst it the world, but similarly, they are there for the rest of my natural. I remember once looking at my Grandfather, the deep creases on his face, how a life time had left it's mark, that was his story in his wrinkles, as much as my story was written in my skin as scars (stripy, like a tiger). This led me to investigate into how the body has been used in art.

I set up a project, The Body Card (can you tell I never put enough effort into it?), in which I used a rough human shaped outline and asked people to show how their experiences and their lives had left marks. Subsequently the self harm community got hold of it, and jumped upon it as a communication method, and it now does the rounds of tumblr, I'm not mad, these things grow, they evolve and if it's helping people then I'm all for it.

Around this time I started looking at some truly wow artists, Franko B was the first one who came and stole my breath, when he paints himself white and performs anything, my heart stops, the reduced colour palette of white and the blood red, the connotations and everything else left me questioning all I knew about performance art, and for that I was thankful. Franko B communicates with the audience silently and it is unnerving, his work discusses humanity. I have yet to witness a Franko B performance, but it's on the bucket list.

Franko B led me on to Ron Athey, who seemed so much more violent and extreme. Questioning self mutilation, sexuality and a smattering of desire, using his body to pose these questions to the viewer, and how we view our bodies. Athey, from a pentacostal background, and you see this in his works. He also used to contribute to an L.A paper. His self violence is extreme, and compelling to audiences.

Not to be totally sexist, Marina Abramovic, also concerned with the body, pushing the boundaries of self discovery, and the limits of her body and mind, her performances long, and creating rituals from everyday life. Her performances seem more peaceful than Athey or Franko B, but that is probably because of ingrained connotations of men being masculine and violent, which are difficult things to move past.

At one performance she invited the viewer to inflict what ever they liked upon her, having a gun held to her throat, this work, to me, says everything about power, and how we can and can't control everything, and that says everything to me about my self harm.

When I lack control in my life, I will do everything and anything to feel like I do have control, and sometimes that means cutting my skin, sometimes it means starving myself, and sometimes it means throwing myself against walls.

Unlike the above three artists, I'm not about to try to make artwork about any self harm, mine or otherwise. Yet, in looking at how self harm is used in art, may allow us to explain and understand it, just that little bit more.