Shary Boyle, 2005, porcelain, china paint, 20cm tall. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, reproduced with permission of the artist
At first glance, this porcelain lady (she looks like a lady to me) by Toronto artist Shary Boyle appears to be wearing a ruffled pink collar, and daintily holding a little something in her hands. Look again. This figurine is displaying her severed head, its face yet serene, just like a good little porcelain is supposed to be. This is not your grandmother’s Meissen porelain.
Jess von der Ahe, ”Helmut Berger as Ludwig 2,” 2006, 14 x 18 inches, Menstrual blood, resin and clay on board, reproduced with permission of the artist
Once it registers on your mind that she painted it with her own menstrual blood, your assessing mind might leap to its own conclusion, beautiful surface appearances flushed right down the toilet.
Which brings to mind other artists who have trafficked in bodily fluids. Witness, for example, Andy Warhol’s exquisite Oxidation Paintings from the 1970s, where said oxidation happened when Warhol urinated on a sheet of copper. The images produced by the ultimate little boy’s glee of peeing on target now fetch upwards of a cool million at auction. And it was Warhol’s influence on artist Andreas Serranos that lead one southern senator to try to pull the plug on the National Endowment for the Arts when it funded this image.
What was the big fuss? It is an eye-blindingly beautiful, mesmerizing image. But it is also a photograph of Christ on a cross resting in a container of the artist’s urine. And such provocative works are not without art historical precedent. Consider Marcel Duchamps’1946 abstract painting Faulty Landscape, with its seminal fluid on Astrolon and black satin, or early performance artist Chris Burden’s Shoot, 1971. (If you don’t know about Shoot, don’t forget to click).
Artists who paint with their bodily fluids… Will art historians dub this genre the “Art Movements” art movement? Here are a few more “Art Movements” artists for your consideration. Trust me, you’ll need a chuckle to prepare you for what’s coming next… I present, London performance artist Millie Brown, who uses her own vomit to produce her works of art:
Millie Brown in Martina Spetlova SS11, directed by Piotr Onak, reproduced with permission of the artist
Millie Brown in the performance Nexus Vomitus, directed by Nick Knight, reproduced with permission of the artist
Artist Statement by Millie Brown on her performance, Nexus Vomitus:
“I drink coloured milk — the process is not painful but after several hours of vomiting it can take its toll, which is why I limit the number of colours I use. … The use of canvas is a natural progression from my early performances. I started puking down myself in various outfits, but wanted more longevity from the end result.”
I’ll leave my mini-retrospective of “Art Movements” there, enough said. Enough to… digest.
I want to emphasize that I do not intend for the dialogue here on Yoga Modern to be about issues of “grossness” or body image (those topics have been discussed ad nauseam, they are a dime a dozen of donuts. Google Millie Brown to find those forums).
We have grown used to beauty without horror.
We have grown used to useless beauty.
Andrew Hudgins, Andres Serrano, 1987
I suspect that many of us have not only grown used to beauty without horror, but think of the two as mutually exclusive. I argue that art that appears “ugly” can be beautiful.
Which brings me to the “yoga” in Yoga Modern. The ultimate purpose of yoga is not to be relaxed in beautiful bliss. Neither is it to simply feel peaceful. It certainly is not be “empty.” It is out of the emptiness in meditation that we can (if we are willing) face the most provocative parts of ourselves to allow the “stuff” to come to the surface for our consideration. The “best” meditations are the ones that stir more than sedate. We learn so much more about ourselves and what is not working in our lives when we gaze at our darkness.
“It is a very ambitious path. Its goal is not peace. The ultimate goal of yoga is the embodiment of the sum of all shaktis. Peace is just the vehicle…a Yogi is one who can tolerate the intolerable.”
Rod Stryker, author of The Four Desires
That “intolerable,” that beauty with horror, in yoga, isn’t this the value of mastering challenging poses, more so than the utter bendiness of it all?
I’ve presented you with some goading images. Hopefully, I’ve provoked. My question for you is this: What is it in facing the “intolerable” or the “horrible” that provokes beauty and awe? What horror do you face head-on in your yoga practice?