Camellia Cameo (2016) 22 x 15 inches, photographic print


Camellia Cameo (2016)
22 x 15 inches, photographic print

 

Seeing the Self Through Genealogy

Looking out the kitchen window every day there is a beautiful camellia tree. With flowers of soft white and pink petals and golden star-shaped centres of brilliant stamens - the tree is laden. These gentle flowers cling tightly to their branches despite the breeze, only to eventually fall, sometimes whole and complete and sometimes as individual petals. They seem to mark and bruise almost immediately, like skin, as they hit the ground.

Camellia Selfie 2016 is a studio re-envisioning of myself.

Within my practice I focus on reclaiming memories of religious rituals, iconography and symbols as means to create new self-representational works.

Through these works particular works, I acknowledge the mechanisms of the selfie but seek to create images and objects which explore my own female genealogy, stage my evolution via personal ritual(s) and prompt my own spiritual envisioning as material and divine.

One of French philosopher Luce Irigaray's suggested strategies for disrupting the cultural disruption of female genealogy is through greater social representation of the relationships between mother and daughter and woman to woman.

To rediscover and reclaim representation of a female divine concept I draw here on historical precedent of female artists seeking its transcendent origins from within the physical body.

In order for me to imagine some sort of divine representation from within my female genealogy I gather the histories and memories contained within my own body.

Camellia Selfie (2015) is the first self-portrait made for my Masters of Fine Art research project and is a selfie- the image is taken with my phone-camera, with hand outstretched in front to capture the moment directly and quickly.

I came to the image of representing my face as a blooming camellia flower via memory of my grandmother, who always had camellia trees in her yard.

Going into my memory I see her image as foreign and other, small yet looming, a face loving and intimidating all at once. Within the quick bruising of the camellia flower I see myself as innocent child easily bruised by the sharpness of her tongue.

Yet intuitively I also feel held by the meanings of the camellia flower as a symbol of divine love and love for children.   

Instead of creating an image for others, or for strangers as selfies often are, I wanted to create this image as a gift to myself.

It is an offering which speaks to the possibilities of cultivating and blossoming new versions of female identity within established frameworks of being.

It also honours my own genealogy of women – in which I am one imperfectly perfect flower upon one branch of a whole tree.

To make the image I collected flowers that had fallen to the ground. I took them inside to the kitchen and carefully pulled them apart with tweezers, grading each petal as I went by size and colour shift.

Looking into a small mirror, I carefully painted a dab of latex to the base of each petal and pressed it to my face to build a complete flower mask. Once my face was covered the intact golden stamens of the camellia were glued at the top-centre bridge of my nose between my eyes.

Stripped to the waist of clothes I lay down on the cold cracked slate-paving in my courtyard in the same spot where the flowers had been collected. I began to take photos of myself with my phone.

There are strange and awkward angles to the images I take, laying amongst the scattered dead leaves and petals of the tree. I appear almost to have fallen.

The mask of petals appears solid on my face, but on closer examination the petals are bruised and marked with the semi-circles of my own fingernails.

I initially created Camellia Selfie (2015) as a private ritual which honoured my female genealogy. However, in creating the photograph, I was conscious of the issue of the gaze in a selfie.

By covering my whole face with flowers, my eyes are highlighted; they stare out at viewers of this work with a piercing look. And yet I made this work to look at myself.

What have I inherited within and beyond my DNA from the women in my family that remains invisible and unacknowledged? I was looking for evidence .

In her essay How Can We Create Our Own Beauty 1 philosopher Luce Irigaray describes the process of female self-transformation as a state of continual change, where ‘female forms are always incomplete, in perpetual growth, because a woman grows, blossom and fertilizes (herself) within her own body.’ 2

In Camellia Selfie (2015) I try to capture in my own way this sense of growth, blossoming and fertilization of the self as self-image.

 

1. Luce Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous : Toward a Culture of Difference (New York: Routledge, 1993).p. 100-106
2. Ibid.p. 103