Monday, November 19, 2007
My Muse, My Self
I always use myself as a model in my work, even when the work isn't autobiographical.It began during my teens. Lacking a life model, I taught myself to draw by looking into a mirror. I felt a certain detachment from my body, which has increased as I've grown older. Drawing was (and still is) a way of connecting myself to it, of convincing myself that I actually inhabited it. I used to wish that people could consist only of mind and shadow so that physical appearance wouldn't be such a distraction.Like many things, I think this was related to the places where I grew up: lonely little places that didn't care much about the intellectual or creative – and didn't trust them, either. In school and later, at university, it infuriated me that ideas were reduced to mere competition. I think this is what drove me to try and make my body a starting point for something more.The first mature work I made that used my own image incorporated a full length mirror. Onto the mirror, I lay coloured vinyl to create a simple, glamorised silhouette of myself. The game was for the viewer to try and fit the reflection of their body into the stylised outline of mine. Of course, no-one did, not even me. I was doing some fashion modelling then, so my profile was very tall (which it still is) and lean (which it is no longer).The work pissed a lot of women off. The notion of women working with their bodies but striving to undermine the objectification of them is essentially feminist. But it became clear that my work would be accepted as feminist art only if I was shorter and heavier. My own inescapable physical reality somehow excluded my work. (That didn't stop feminist lecturers at university making objectifying remarks about my body unrelated to art.)A year or so later, I started playing with perspective to force the viewer look up to, rather than at, the figure I created– a figure based, as always, on myself. I wanted to create a kind of feminist idolatry (or heresy) although, in retrospect, I'm not sure sure I was successful at communicating that.I am still both artist and muse. Because of my feminist upbringing, I used to interpret the role of muse with scepticism. It was, I used to think, related to looks, not intellect, and so inevitably ephemeral and ultimately destroyed by time. Now I'm not so sure. In the muse that is myself, I am only just beginning to penetrate layers of 20-something years of tightly woven emotional, psychological and intellectual fabric that are enriched, not eroded, by the slow decay of the physical self.