Watching You, Watching Me

Somewhere in the background is the idea that the piece of artwork will end up in a show somewhere for others to see.

She looks comfortable, cuddly, as if curling up is the only thing she needs to comfort herself. Around her are hands playing with a piece of string. There’s an interesting power discourse of male presence and voyeurism, because although you see her completely naked, you never see his face or his body. Just his hands, and a piece of string wrapped around his fingers. He is there without being there. And he’s watching her curl up without gazing directly at her.

I’m standing in the middle of a jazz club, looking at myself. Sure, I’ve seen dozens of drawings and paintings out there of my naked body, and of course I've seen my fiancé, Rene, sell nude paintings of other women, but this painting is a first for both of us. After almost two years of drawings and a proposal, I’m now gazing at the first Rene Farkass painting of me.

I’m on my back, in a kind of fetal position. Rene originally did the drawing on a page of a magic tricks book, so I’m in the top half of the page, and on the bottom half are step-by-step drawings on how to restore a cut length of rope. The diagrams are all in circles, much like the one I’m creating with my body.

I remember the night I did that pose. It was cold outside, and we couldn’t keep the heat up consistently during his figure drawing class. Even the space heaters were quitting out more than they were staying on. I was shivering through every pose, to the point that the artists were getting frustrated. It’s very hard to draw a shaking leg. Finally, for a fifteen-minute pose, Rene told me to do whatever I wanted to get warm. So I went down on my back, and I grasped my legs so that they were over my chest. I breathed deeply, and soon enough, I finally felt warm. It was the only pose that night that I didn’t shiver my way through.

As much as I write, model and have performed, it’s an entirely different sensation to realize myself on some sort of platform: a stage or, in this case, on canvas. When I am in front of people, I’m so in my own world. The boundaries that any type of performance situation, like the fourth wall, goes away, because even though I’m set apart, I feel like I’m right there with whomever I’m performing or writing to. It’s different when you see yourself doing your work. There’s an out-of-body experience to realize that out there, someone is looking at you, and you may not even realize it.

That night, I began to see what it meant to watch myself perform. Even model. To me, modeling is another form of performance art, so when I talk about performance, I mean modeling as well. In the traditional performance model, actors speak, and audience members listen to what they are being told. In response, Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theatre artist, created a new method of theatre that involved audience members, or spectators, in the process without necessarily making them come on to the stage. Actors on stage then become facilitators, and they act out the roles that the audience members ask them to. Central to every method is the involvement of the audience member.

Why am I bringing up performance theory? Because it relates back to that night when I felt the out-of-body experience of seeing myself in Rene’s show. I was so used to seeing myself on one end of the modeling scheme, where I am creating an image, and an artist draws me. I speak, and the artist listens. Somewhere in the background is the idea that the piece of artwork will end up in a show somewhere for others to see. We speak, the viewers listen. But what about when I’m the viewer, effectively, the audience member? Then the traditional performance model creates a full circle, and it turns upon itself, where I’m speaking and I’m listening.

There’s an assumed submissiveness in modeling that people chalk up to being “the muse.” I don’t believe in it. Every model is active in one way or another. Even if she’s there to inspire, creativity is too active to be sparked by passivity. Even in that situation, the artist is putting him or herself into the model, interacting with whatever figure she is creating without interjecting him or herself into the image. She speaks, but he is speaking too. Who’s listening? The canvas, the page.

I remember tracing my body with my fingers. Not that night, but in Rene’s studio, before that piece was hung. It’s interesting how you can go almost your whole life not realizing certain body curves until someone else points them out in his depiction of you. There’s a grace to the way Rene draws me, one that I feel so out of touch with sometimes, I think because I live with my body every day, and he gets the distance of looking at it as an outsider. Even though I’m in a tight little ball, I could still feel the movement in my lines, as if I could still see myself calming down from feeling cold.

I'm getting married soon, and I wonder what it’ll be like when I look at my wedding pictures. Will I feel the same out-of-body experience of catching myself in a performance-like situation where I am presenting myself to other people? Will it make me more involved in my wedding? When the day is done, all I’m left with are memories to create and re-fashion, as if I am spectator who is involved in crafting a scene. I wonder how much the photos will play into that. Will they merely be facilitators, acting as benchmarks, telling me what happened at certain given moments, leaving whatever happens in between up to imagination and however I choose to screen my wedding in my memory? Will they recreate the memories I want them to tell me?

Or will it come full circle again, where I listen to what images of myself are telling me?

-- Excerpted from nakedladyinawhitesilkdress.wordpress.com

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