Berlin, Jan. 2010 - During a raw 72-hour performance project, Carrion, at Haunch of Venison's Berlin branch (on view 15-17 January 2010), British artist Eloise Fornieles guards over an animal carcass from the inside of a skeleton castle. She will reject food and lash away at the animal's flesh while reading letters of apology from the audience. The audience's voyeuristic engagement with the spectacle will be skewed by the intrusive pseudo-professionalism of cameramen dressed in military uniforms. Fornieles' striking, unclothed beauty embodies the problematic and rarely so well- articulated symbiosis between female performance body artists and female performance artists' bodies. Here we discuss the significance of hunger, voyeurism, nudity and pain in activism and art.
Eloise Fornieles, Carrion (Paradise Row, London), 2008, C-type print ounted on aluminum, 35.46x47.28 inches; Courtesy of the artist
Ana Finel Honigman: How does your performance relate to historical hunger strikes and the use of hunger as a metaphor in art?
Eloise Fornieles: The performance recalls the history of the hunger strike rather than a specific event in history. It is commonly referred to as a ‘non-violent act of protest’, yet it is a profoundly violent act against one’s body. Acts of violence against the body in political protest strike a chord in people because they relate the action to their own bodies when understanding what drives a person to self-harm. They therefore must engage with whatever political issue the striker stands for from a very personal and physical stand point. During the period of the performance my mother and sister decided to also stop eating as a form of solidarity and support, which in itself was a very powerful and touching gesture. Self-imposed hunger is complex in its political and social motivations and repercussions. It brings together both a method of protest and an attempt to critique body ideals in western society. I was particularly interested in Simone Weil and her essay ‘The Poem of Force’ as an example of a woman who questioned violence and sadly ended her life through self-imposed starvation.
Eloise Fornieles, Senescence, 2007, C-type print mounted on aluminum, gold leafed branches, 35.46x45.31 inches; Courtesy of the artist
AFH: Why did you decide to carry on the performance for the prescribed amount of time you've selected?
EF: Carrion is the last part of a trilogy of performances which all lasted three days. The previous performances (From the Deep Waters of Sleep and Senescence) involved sleeping for three days and not sleeping for three days. This period gives the body enough time to understand its limits and capabilities.
AFH: Do you perceive the video as a by-product or the main outcome of the performance?
EF: The video is a piece in its own right, but I wouldn’t say it was the main outcome. I was commissioned by the Fashion in Film Festival to make a film and since I also wanted to create a live performance I had to really consider the role of the camera. I rarely video my performances as it affects the way in which people interact but this piece is about the way in which we consume flesh, commodities and also images, so the camera people played a key role. I wanted to readdress the documentation of performance, as you can never really recreate the primary experience through a secondary format (i.e. photography, video, text). The video is not only a document of what happened but also echoes the atmosphere and the experience.
AFH: Why perform nude?
EF: It was important to compare the dead flesh of the animal and the living flesh of the woman. Both fall into categories of the ‘consumed’. Voyeurism is a form of consuming and heightened when a situation is sexually charged. In this context the act of undressing feels in no way sexual to perform, but the naked body is innately associated with sex. Undressing and redressing present a vulnerability and intimacy rarely shared in public. Unlike the stripper this form of undressing is in no way ‘teasing’ the viewer. It is simply a recurring domestic and universal process, when nakedness can be taken as a form of truth.
AFH: What is the relationship between the cameramen's military uniforms and their actions?
EF: The cameramen's costumes are based on the uniforms of the Mexican Military from the American-Mexican war, which in 1847 was the first war to be photographed. During the research for Carrion I found a lot of source material from 'Regarding the Pain of Others' by Susan Sontag and war photography was obviously a key topic.
There is a strange similarity in the role of the army and the role of the cameraman. The language of photography is similar to that of gunmanship- we shoot, we reload, we ‘take’ photographs and we ‘take’ lives. Yet both groups create a form of security. The cameramen were not only responsible for this form of ‘taking’ they also provided a source of safety and reassurance.
Eloise Fornieles, From the Deep Waters of Sleep, 2007, C-Type print mounted on Aluminum, salt, 35.46x45.31 inches; Courtesy of the artist
AFH: Are you a meat-eater?
EF: No, I'm not a meat-eater. I was brought up vegetarian and I am concerned with animal welfare, farming methods and addressing animal rights. Performing with animals opens up a space for us to contemplate our relationship with them. People are very often uncomfortable with dead animals yet eat them without thinking. Using the body of an animal in a ritualistic act helps us to understand the sacrifice of life, connects us to the realties of death and underlines the responsibility we have to the animals we breed.
ArtSlant would like to thank Eloise Fornieles for her assistance in making this interview possible.