I sat cross legged in front of the camera with my left arm painted black to midway between my elbow and shoulder. After a moment I began to bite and gnaw at my arm in an attempt to remove the paint.
The original artist’s statement for this work read:
The performance piece, Circumcision, explores notions of catharsis and the possibility of its attainment. Through the work I engage with theories relating to catharsis, particularly psychoanalysis and Judaeo-Christian theology, borrowing their language and formal structure to articulate my concerns. The performance is simultaneously an articulation of my desire or need for transformative healing and an attempt to achieve a cathartic experience. In Circumcision these desires are converted into ritualised actions, mirroring the processes of sublimation and fetishisation of the body. Painting my arm signifies the physicalisation of a psychical wound in an attempt to remove it.
The work was later exhibited in the show ‘ReImag(in)ing SomaSex’ at the Macquarie University Art Gallery and I was prompted to reconsider some of the ideas that had been in my head when I originally performed the work. The exhibition was mainly focused on ideas of body, gender and sexuality, so I my second statement focused more on these aspects of my work:
We begin life in the womb in a state of complete fulfillment. Through birth we lose our unity with the mother and the instant gratification of that physical bond. This rupture is then echoed in the development of our ability to distinguish between the mother and ourselves. These separations gave birth to a lack from which sprang need and desire. Lacan’s ‘objet petit a’ is an artifact of these ruptures. Once the womb or the nipple may have fulfilled us, but its removal taught us to desire. The ‘objet petit a’ is no longer the object of our desire, but it is the cause of our position as desiring machines. The lack has developed beyond the point of fulfillment.
Melanie Klein’s ‘part objects’ are those parts which attract the privileged interest of the child: the breast; the penis; the mouth. These part objects are wrapped up in the infant’s desire for the parent, to be suckled by the mother, to have the father’s penis. This desire is overshadowed by the threat of punishment, girl’s have already been wounded by the removal of the penis and boy’s live under threat. Circumcision is a symbolic castration of the son, or a warning shot across the bow. In my performance Circumcision is a self-mutilation an anthropophagic act. Julia Heyward described her arm as if it were separate from her, a foreign body or part object. My arm is a privileged object, at once separate and yet horribly connected.
Need and desire are repeatedly expressed through sexuality. Desire is evoked or sustained by states of revelation and obfuscation. When what is revealed is hidden or removed from our reach the fear of loss heightens our desire. Lacan states that the parts which provoke arousal are the sites which suggest severances. Breasts are withheld from the mouth and faeces is ejected from the body. Eyelids, lips, labia and the slit at the tip of the glans all appear as though cut open. Mike Parr’s performance at the 1977 Paris Biennale involved the amputation of a fake arm attached to his real stump. Parr’s desire for a lost arm caused him to cut away at the negative space, my desire provokes a similar revelation.