Body Image in Art and Design

Over the past week or two, I’ve been collecting a lot more information about body image, or the body, in relation to artists’ works. Particularly, scholars who’ve written about the body, artists who use the body in their art, or artworks featuring the body or body image. It’s been actually quite interesting to look through all of this information. Here’s a list of what I’ve come across below. For some of them, I’ve written some short thoughts or descriptions about what I’ve seen or understood.

Marina Abramovic, (performance art) Rhythm 0:

In Rhythm 0, Abramovic placed about 70 articles of pain and pleasure in front of her, and then stood as an object while the audience manipulated the objects with her body. Starting out innocently, the performance turned more malicious and aggressive as audience members began to cut her skin, tore her clothes, fondled her breasts and even put a loaded gun to her head. (She provided the gun and the bullet.) When a guard announced that the performance had ended, Abramovic, now teary eyed, walked towards her audience as one of them, yet many or all of them literally ran away. The artwork questions how we objectify each other and tests the limits of our civility towards each other.

Carolee Schneemann, (performance art) Interior Scroll:

In Interior scroll, Schneeman reads a paper scroll as she simultaneously pulls it from her vagina. Definitely an act of reclaiming her body and her ownership of her sex.

“I thought of the vagina in many ways– physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.”

Barbara Kruger, (photography collage) including Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face, Your Body is a Battleground, You Are Not Yourself:
I have to admit that I don’t quite get the art, but I really like the phrase, “Your Body is a Battleground”. It represents so well how strongly we have to remain conscious of the fact that we have a right to not look like how the media, fashion, and the contemporary body aesthetic tells us we should look.

Cindy Sherman, (performance/photography) including Untitled Film Stills and other photos series in which she dresses up as other people/identities:
This is an amazing selection of images that challenge identity and image. When I looked through these photos, I thought “Who are we really?” Is our identity ours, or do we in some way embody the identity of others? I’m still not so sure I know what Cindy Sherman really looks like….

Pipilotti Rist (video performance) PickelPorno:
Pipilotti Rist apparently made her mark with this video. It features a man and a woman, some nudity, and a fish-eye camera, along with other imagery; some sexual. At first, I really didn’t like the video because not only did I not see any intention, the production quality is fairly poor. (I guess I’m used to HD!) I turned it off, and then returned to watch it. After a while, I found enjoyment in the unusual or overlooked perspective views of the body. For instance, with the camera so close to the body, human skin is seen as it really is – hairy and imperfect. I found that while I often wanted to turn away, I couldn’t. It was like a visual exploration of the body, reminiscent of the way 2 lovers explore each other’s bodies.
View film on YouTube
"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 0:57"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 4:17"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 6:35

Ana Mendieta (performance/experimental) Cosmetic Facial Variations:
She was a Cuban artist whose work included a series of “Cosmetic Facial Variations, such as looking ambiguously male and/or female.

Orlan (‘whose medium is plastic surgery – commenting on the world of artificial changes to the body to be perfect/beautiful’):

Seems as though she has undergone a series of plastic surgeries, and then uses not only the surgical results as artwork, but also the surgery videos. She also seems to want to push our interpretations of chasteness and sexuality in religion, and the openness, or lack of openness, of female sexuality.

Laura Mulvey, (scholarly writing) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema PDF”. “A seminal work on ‘the gaze’ – how female identity is structured through the male gaze”:

  • Women are Passive and receive the action; Men are Active and give the action
  • Men are both the lead actors and the spectator; women are there for them
  • Women’s lack of a penis is a threat of castration and unpleasure; are “disarmed” simply due to lack of phallus/phallus-symbol
  • Scopophilia, “love of looking”
  • Cinema defines space, time and size
  • Image of women used for detachment and voyeuristic active/passive mechanisms

Interview with Vanessa Bancroft, from The GuardianInterview with Vanessa Bancroft:

The artist makes performance pieces featuring up to 100 semi-nude and nude models, many of whom resemble the artist and/or have eating disorders. Bancroft admits that she has been struggling with eating disorders (exercise bulimia) since she was 12.

Janine Antoni (process) Gnaw:

The artist took two blocks of chocolate and lard, bit into them piece by piece, and then made a chocolate box and lipstick out of the pieces she’d bitten. I appreciated this for the repurposing of the lard and chocolate, but biting into lard feels viscerally creepy. Detailed description from MoMA and from Brooklyn Museum. Link

Chris Woebken (design, technology)Animal Perception Helmets:
I love that these seem so game-like, fun, and goofy. My favorite is the ant, because it’s such an abstract view of the world. It also reminds me of Pipilotti Rist’s work, Pickelporno. I’m considering the use of magnification in my project.
Ant helmet

Simon Høgsberg (photography) Faces of New York:
A photography project featuring 10 New Yorkers who Høgsberg found immediately fascinating after a month of looking, 7 hours a day.
Musician, TV show hostNewspaper boyUnemployed Link

Phillip (“Mr Toledano”) Toledano (photography) A New Kind of Beauty:
Features a series of still photographs of people who have clearly undergone some type of plastic surgery. The people themselves did not look “normal” – as in, their plastic surgery procedure(s) was very obvious – but their portraits were beautiful. For the most part, I found that many of them looked alike, both men and women, as if the same facial aesthetic was the same for both men and women. They seemed so much like a new species of hermaphroditic, male/female neutral people, I wanted their names to be more exotic than just Steve, Yvette, or Michael….
A few links on eating disorders in men and ballet dancers. (Note: There are few reference links provided, so the factualness of many of these statements cannot be easily verified, but the anecdotal information is useful.)

“A ballet dancer is very aware of what her body looks like. At each practice she attends she wears skin-tight clothes and dances strenuously in front of large mirrors. A dancer has to look at herself for many hours in a day and this can cause a realization in the dancer. The general public may look in the mirror for a few minutes a day, hardly aware of what they really look like, but a dancer has no choice but to stand in front of a mirror and compare herself with others in the room…. The truth is as stated by a dancer, ‘In the real world people who are not thin do not get jobs.’ “

Emma Hack (skin illustrator, photographer, sculptor), Various skin illustrations:

I just came across this artists work and found the camouflage aspect of her art really interesting and beautiful. And, I enjoyed how the work focused less on the body and more of the body’s disappearance into the art. Her website is

Genesis 1:27 God Created man in his own image:
Lastly, I was just listening to the radio the other day, and there was a guy talking about homosexuality and tolerance. The man speaking was relatively conservatively religious, except that he advocated for tolerance towards gays and lesbians (though not towards gay marriage.) In any case, he quoted the Bible and it seemed to fit with my body image interest, so I’ll just add it here, too. Link.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Cultural representations of the Shark

Land Shark
Used by Saturday Night Live in a comedy skit, the shark is used as the punch line of a recurring joke and is seen as a clever serial killer. The synopsis is the Land Shark goes to apartments and masquerades as a plumber or deliveryman (i.e. “candy gram”). Eventually, the resident is tricked into opening the door and is eaten by someone wearing a rather crude shark costume. The shark could be seen as a symbol representing a very serious crime, serial killing. However, if it were not for our general fear of sharks and knowledge of their nature to seemingly kill things indiscriminately, this sketch would not be funny.

Finding Nemo
The shark is used as an element of intimidation and humor. In this clip, the shark intimidates two fish into joining their fish eaters anonymous group where they attempt to change the impression of sharks from “mindless eating machines”. The sharks represent more simple minded characters, which is expressed through their Cockney accents, scars, and brutishness.

Shark Week
The Discovery Channel uses sharks as the theme for an entire week of television…with the theme of shark. It is clear that sharks are portrayed as dangerous, man-eating killers – as can be seen by the shark image on the homepage. They have also created a short Flash-based film/video called Frenzied Waters in which the viewer takes a first-person view of shark victim. There is a lot of educational information on the site, but it’s all cloaked within the image of dangerous, fearful shark.


So, actually, I presented the above in class and during the discussion my instructor asked about non-Western takes on the shark. Admittedly, I hadn’t looked them up. I took some time tonight thinking about this a little more, and this is what I found.

New Finds [Feb 23, 2010]
Sharks live in all the waters around New Zealand, and have been a part of the Maori culture for some time. References to the shark’s strength and power can be found in Maori mythology and art. Maori are indigenous to New Zealand. Most information comes from:

Maori mythology: Maori and their ancestors (Polynesians) even thought of sharks as protectors. The Hawaiian word for shark protector is aumakua. A shark-related myth states that a legendary ocean guardian (or taniwha) will come to the rescue of a crew if their canoe overturns. Another myth of the Te Arawa tribe also tells of a shark coming to the aid of a crew attacked by a sea monster. Afterwards, the tribe named themselves “shark” or Te Arawa.

Origin of the Galaxy: “In Māori mythology, Māui placed the shark Te Māngōroa in the sky, forming the Milky Way.” Māui is a demi-god in Maori mythology. The Milky Way was known as the “Long Fish” (Ika-roa) or the “Long Shark” (Mangoroa), or “The Fish of Maui” (Te Ika a Maui).

Maori proverbs: There are a few proverbs related to death and sharks, venerating sharks. One Maori proverb is: Kia mate ururora, kei mate wheke. Let me die like a (hammerhead) shark, not like an octopus.

The other is: Kia mate uruora tātou, kei mate-ā-tarakihi. Maori caught octopus by hand, so perhaps this shows a relative lack of respect for octopi vs. sharks. Let us die like white sharks, not tarakihi fish. Tarakihi is a type of coastal fish common in New Zealand.

Maori contemporary artwork: While I was searching for more information related to the Maori culture and the Milky Way, I found some artwork feature sharks that were once part of a gallery exhibit. This is the gallery website. A few screenshots (below), the red and yellow fan-like sculptures, and the masks are from the gallery.

Aboriginal Australian Views of Sharks
In addition to Maori culture, I also found an excellent and thorough 6-page write-up about sharks and Aboriginal societies in Australia. “The Cultural Significance of Sharks and Rays in Aboriginal Societies Across Australia’s Top End” states that Aboriginal groups recognize a greater variety of sharks and therefore see them as “powerful and worthy of respect”. Aboriginal cultures not only respect sharks, they also use them for food. In contrast, Australians of European origin (or Western thought, for that matter) view sharks solely as predators and tend to fear them irrationally.

Here are a few screenshots from my new research activities.