Skinning and Skin In
By Genevieve White
What have I done to my body and what has it done to me? If my body is a temple, I have at times, ruined it to its most elemental functions. This is a matter of perspective, of course, as some view destruction as a construction and beginning. And on the opposite side, I have controlled and used it to the point of perfect metamorphosis into a suitcase embodying the health of a somewhat robotic automatic system. A little bit of a contradiction, yet it makes sense if a robot is the definition of an independently harmonized and perfectly balanced andintrepid organism. Then, I have trained my imperfect body with its errors and bodily functions to be invincible and to fit into a set of rules, which are not part of its immediate nature and organic way of being. Pushing the limits of a finite capacity to be and to live in a body is, in other words, sadistic and bending towards unrealistic, if not psychologically distorted, realities. The way in which one projects an image of its body to others and how it moves partly becomes character and interactive display.
If change is constantly shifting our shell of skin and muscles, to which end is the final formation a consequence of environment and relationships? When one is subjected to be in front of the camera, actor or model or friendly subject, one either gives or retain energy. There lies a power of the soul to convey, to let go of the ego for something other worldly and magical. That result is one of many possibilities. There is also a stagnation possible at bay depending on the relationship between photographer and subject. This vulnerability and distance between camera and body is a space that is continuously being juggled when it is active. With this skill in hand, if aware, some people can even push the image to create surreal and naturally beautiful effects. Most models with this ethereal capacity to be in the world do not know precisely how they embody this natural beauty. When pointed out by others, they fail to really admit it; it is a second skin that is rare and special, but to them, it is simply who they are.
If someone wants to shed skin and, in other words, transform radically or disappear, they must ask their body to undergo unsafe functioning. A body without a mind is a senseless doom of matter formed into a bubble of flesh trying to be healthy, minus the capacity to reason. It morphs without grace, moving space around its inert being, even if is alive. But barely so.
If at the origin of the self is the experience of the body in relationship to the natural world, living every moment fully shapes the mold one becomes. In my performances, I am often ending in a state of lightness or illumination as vulnerability, openness, and reaction to my energy and the audience. The direct effect is intimate change. The long-term effect is pure understanding of being and connecting outside of oneself. The ritual and the discipline in it is the freedom I always pursued and never could get. To not have rules from older people, apparently wiser, over oneself hovering in my head was a challenge to surpass. I grew up feeling guilty.
Guilty of everything and anything. A little bit like I should be saying sorry for my existence in the first place. I am not sorry anymore, of course. But it took me the courage and my art to heal and overpass some existing gates, which locked me in from being who I’ve become and unmasking that privilege. I used to disguise myself as a little girl and play the adult woman within me. It was probably loosely based on my mother, since then, young ones were not exposed yet to the internet and magazines and the images of women in the media. It looked terrifying. I would wear two big rolls of toilet paper as breasts underneath a tight, white, and transparent camisole, a wig that looked as though dated from the time of the famous Beatles haircut, white powder on my face, lipstick up to my cheeks, and heels too big and too high. Monstrous, not very elegant, likable, or beautiful for that matter. I identified with the grotesque and improvised beauty from my inner imagination with the available tools around me.
Morphing into adolescence, my body became a territory and bottle for control, distance from my parents, and as something I could own. I used it in irrational ways; thinking of it now, it is scary. I could stop eating and feel fine and just play with that. The only option for me to feel secure then was to abandon it and treat it like it wasn’t there and that was a mental and physical task to keep up with. It was a pathetic disgrace towards myself, when I tried to develop my ideas and my mind more than anything else. The pressure of wanting to be like someone else and be loved for that image of a glamorous person, unique and looked at gave me the thrill I was after. This attention and acceptance, all teenagers want, of course. The distortions of my self-image led me to expose that body in my performance to gain a clearer understanding of where its real power lies and how its movements could make it comfortable with itself. Staging myself revealed me as raw as I had never seen myself and unmasked what I thought I was. To abandon the body and find it again is a ritual I then began. From asexual and not knowing what to do with this abundant energy within me, to sexual and confident, the ideas in my work parallel the feelings that arose from me during these lonely independent performances. My brain centered on symbolic ideas and materials into what eventually became truths about my skin and surface that I explored alone in front of the camera. Neither environment felt safe—neither reality nor my re-creation of it. The first performances were just tests for me to gain a real self—no longer foreign to me—to develop courage, and expand their forms in order for my body to completely to take over and minimize the fears.
The mother’s body and the pregnant self was a time when transformation was fastest, and overall, extreme. The acceptance it takes for a woman to see herself give up her own core for the survival and sake of the fetus is a form and gesture of humility. I have so much respect and love for the pregnant body. It is one full of aches, fears, bends, and so on, ad infinity. I feel that it is a sacred form and a place called home. With its strain and positive aspects, come a list of changes unpredictable and unique. Some of them throughout the trimesters include: blocked nose, heavy breathing, perfect skin, bloating, nausea, headaches, back pain, new posture, sore breasts, weight gain, and more. Unfortunately, all these processes go by so fast that a pregnant woman has the feeling of being robbed from her body. To see what used to be turn into something else is a fantastically surreal mental task for one to observe as time passes by. Fortunately, the body knows exactly how and when to do everything, if the woman is in good heath. The body during this time gives and takes—that is the heart of its mechanism.
The body is a strange place if it has not been conquered. I feel alienated when its movements are stagnant. To untangle it—as it sometimes and often gets furiously tight—the medium and intention of the performance is to reach a deeper consciousness, which makes it possible to feel free and outside of itself. Perhaps, then it is closer to the power of the mind and its unlimited openness. There is a freedom in going beyond exhaustion to a point where the mind is empowered and the body relies on its strength. This is a point of intimate connection and, in a short span, ecstasy. A little closer to the experience of the hormone released right after giving birth to a child. A natural high without the effects of hard drugs.
Genevieve White is a performance and visual artist currently based living and working in New York City. She works in video, performance, dance, installation, photography, drawing, and writing. White received her M.F.A from Parsons the New School in May 2009. She has her BFA from Concordia University, Montreal, in art history and studio arts.
“I use my body in my performances as a platform to explore and test my limits, exhaust myself, and expose my vulnerabilities to the audience. I accomplish tasks I set myself to do. I find the body and its movements to an honest space to find and navigate my way and tell stories through these truths. I work with the absurdity of repetitive gestures, body language inspired by nature and social contexts, existential states, resistance, and many more observations. I photograph myself daily to record changes and to reconsider my own perceptions of my body. I use the language of poetry and myths to create, visualize, practice, and design my costumes and sets for stages. States of extreme tension expose the connection between the body and mind in operation. I’m interested in how that might work and operate in performances. I am interested in what moves people. I want people to feel something and leave with one moment or other of revelation/recognition and magic.”