Currently reading : Harnessing the abject – An interview with Millie Brown
Collect the spit in your mouth, push it to the front.Take your time.
Let your mouth warm; it will begin to feel dense.
Suck it back and forth through your teeth.
Now it is cooling down, swallow it.
Why does this substance so natural feel so foreign once you become aware of it? Sweat, spit, urine, mucus, all of these things that are products of bodily existence have come to be held as abject. There is a cultural shame regarding that which the body produces, remedied by a ubiquitous selection of pharmaceuticals to disguise or prevent such occurrences.
Theorists on the body have contemplated the reasons behind such bodily shame, understanding the distaste as an unconscious aversion to the signifiers of the human condition. Ultimately that which the body produces may be seen as foreclosing the disintegration of the body, representing the timely guarantee of death.
Abjection is about boundaries. So not only are the boundaries of inside/outside in terms of organic production, but also bodies that do not comply with socialised understandings of normality may be seen as abject. That which is not the idealised ‘body beautiful’, the groomed, trained body that conforms to gendered typologies has throughout history been subject to degradation, if not alienation.
But it has also been revered, subcultures and communities claim the abject as a point of rebellion against mainstream culture, in fashion, in art and with and on the body. Millie Brown’s conceptual performance art is an example of contemporary artists harnessing the abject as an expressive tool. We exchanged questions on her works…
How did the idea of vomit paintings come to you? Were you looking for a new medium to express yourself?
I came up with the concept of vomiting rainbows when I was 17, I lived with my art collective !WOWOW! in south London and we’d been asked to takeover a gallery space in Berlin in 2005. I’d explored many different mediums of art, having grown up in an artistic family I was always encouraged to express myself creatively. When I was asked what I wanted to do as part of the Berlin show, it was to explore performance art. I wanted to use my body to create a performance that was raw, by painting from the inside out to create a piece of work that truly came from within leaving behind a part of me on the canvas itself. It was one of the most liberating experiences in my life. That was when I decided to be a performance artist.
You have worked with Lady Gaga in several occasions; do you think the artists of your generation are generally speaking more open to the idea of collaborating with pop musicians, fashion or even TV series?
I feel like there’s still an element of taboo when collaborating with these industries but having grown up in a collective where all types of creatives from musicians to film-makers to fashion designers would collaborate on each others work, it feels natural to me. I think it can be incredibly powerful to combine creative forces. Performing with Lady Gaga was a completely new experience for me, feeling that bond with another person on stage was such a different experience to performing alone. She’s opened people’s minds, especially the younger generation; to new creative expression and that in it’s self is incredibly important.
What excites you most about the art panorama right now?
I think there’s a rebellious and optimistic movement in the art world right now. It’s exciting to see artists tearing down societal standards of art, beauty and freedom. I’m excited to continue pushing these boundaries within my own work.