Wanda Zyborska

Blog 4 Anticleia

Last November I took part in a performance workshop in London funded by the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) for its Old Dears series of workshops and performances by and about older women.  I was in a group of 10 British artists invited to work with the Mexican artist Rocio Boliver (below), who had been brought over to perform, lecture and devise the workshop, culminating in a collaborative performance at the Chelsea Theatre on 28 November.

‘Rocio described her workshop, Between Menopause and Old Age, Alternative Beauty, as “demystifying the horror of old age, inventing my own deranged aesthetic and moral solutions for the problem of age”. (1)

Rocio Boliver 2014

For my piece in our final collaboration I made a performance about Anticleia’s struggle to embody herself in the underworld.  Anticleia has become part of everything I am currently doing in my practice.  I took a while to write about it because I needed time to reflect on the workshop, which was quite a profound and challenging experience for me.

Anticleia: Between Menopause and Old Age: Alterntive Beauty.  Photograph Alex Eisenberg 2015

As I mentioned before, in Fuseli’s painting Anticleia is within a spiral of energy made up of ghosts.  She has become a symbol for overlooked older women to me, and I have invested her with my own desires.  She is my mascot, and in a way I am inventing her just as much as Homer did, except that I am not using her to fill some narrative gaps but trying to envisage her as a creative event, a site for possibilities.  I am fantasizing about her energy continuing until today and further, her struggle for recognition, admittedly not obvious in her brief lifetime (which barely merits its mythical status) but as imagined and projected by me.

Anticleia: Between Menopause and Old Age: Alterntive Beauty.  Photograph Alex Eisenberg 2015

The performance took place in a black theatre where we were spaced out like a gallery installation, performing in pairs or alone.  The fact that human blood was flowing in two of the nearest corners of the space I was occupying, in the celebratory and sacrificial performances of Rocio Boliver, Sheree Rose and Pascale Ciapp, gave a literal sense to the re-awakening of Anticleia in the Chelsea Theatre.  In Homer’s poem Odesseus uses sheep’s blood to embody the ghosts, but this was London in 2015.

I was feeling my way into an awakening, inside the skin of my sculpture, and breaking out of it.  The sculpture was part of the form of the performance, and also a chrysalis for a metaphorical transformation, with my body as still forming matter tentatively emerging, at least that was how I saw it.  This was the first time I had used my naked body in a live performance.  It had never seemed necessary to me before, I think it was a combination of influences from the workshop with Rocio Boliver, and the subject of the performance.

Anticleia: Between Menopause and Old Age: Alterntive Beauty.  Photograph Alex Eisenberg 2015

I realized through discussions at the workshop with Rocio that I am very much part of my sculptural work in a material way.  I had thought that I was giving them movement, but they are also giving me movement, the relationship is closer than I realized, we are indivisible.

The workshop made me re-evaluate what the performance element of my practice means to me, but it is still too recent for me to reach any conclusions, or even more considered questions.  Initially I began using performance in my art practice because of a desire to make my sculptures move, particularly the ones made of rubber. The medium is so malleable and constantly changing shape.  I considered using mechanical means, but did not have the technical skills so decided to move them with my body, but trying not to suggest the body within the sculpture; I wanted to move the sculptures in the way that I thought they would move themselves. 

Anticleia: Between Menopause and Od Age: Alternative Beauty. Photograph Alex Eisenberg 2015

The performance Anticleia: Between Menopause and Old Age was an assemblage of the two states, sculptural and bodily performance, a hybrid performance of inside and outside.

(1) Keidan, L. (2015). Feminism, Age and Performance: Old Dears. Available: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/feminism-age-and-performance-old-dears/. Last accessed 27 January 2016.

Blog 3

I continue to draw, and am halfway through two large maquettes or small sculptures (more on these later).  Some drawings are near to the original, some are moving away visually, but not conceptually.  I am concentrating on Anticleia, the mother of Odysseus.

Anticleia (2015)

Anticleia has become a symbol of the older woman to me.  I see her as a neglected source of untapped energy, and she has entered my imaginative life.  I make stories about her.

Anticleia begs Sisyphus (distracted by a Harpy) to leave her alone (2015)

Because there is so little written about Anticleia I can make her up.

Anticleia feels lonely in her bath (2015)

I feel defensive for her, I think she has been treated unfairly, killed off early just so that she can fulfil a narrative requirement for Homer, and tell Odysseus what’s been going on back home.  And the rest of her short story isn’t much better.

Anticleia resents her role in mythology (2015)

I made a sculpture shown at this year’s River Ogwen Festival which shows the spiralling energy of Anticleia, confined for so long in Hades, making her way through to the surface by following the windings of the Ogwen.

I wonder if the spirit of Tiresias, in his female form, is with her.

Llif/Flow (2015) photo by Lindsey Colbourne

Studio with drawings of Anticleia (2015) photo by Toni Dewhurst

Studio with drawings of Anticleia, Odysseus and Tiresias (2015 photo by Toni Dewhurst

I am allowed to put the original in the blog as it is past copyright date so here it is.

Henry Fuseli. Teiresias Foretells the Future to Odysseus c.1800
Oil on canvas, 91 x 77.8 cm
Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru –National Museum Wales

The painting has hooked me; I find myself delighted that it is suitable for my purpose. I need a copy of the painting to put on the wall so that I can look at it all the time and absorb it.  Different things occur at different times.

Problems with my printer meant that the photograph above came out in bleached tones.  When this happened Anticleia disappeared completely. Her tonal value is very low, reflecting her lack of importance to the composition as a whole. Most of the narrative import is contained within and between the two men; Anticleia is part of the background of both the story, and the painting.  By now everything that occurs is loaded with significance for me. I take this as further proof of the obliteration by art history of old women (more proof later).

I begin to make drawings from it, to take apart and analyze the composition in a playful way, and continue to think about it three dimensionally. I consider isolating shapes and movements from the painting, such as the spiral of ghosts that Anticleia is part of. 

Initially I am working fairly closely from the original, in that I am looking at it while I draw.  I am not looking at what I am drawing, except occasionally to place things and find a starting place, and also for washes and tones.  I am using a drawing system I call ‘semi-automatic’.  It derives from Surrealist automatic drawing, but can involve a conscious subject and consideration of composition.  This Anticleia series is about as far away from the idea of automatic drawing as I can get, the only thing left is not looking at the page.

The one above is not semi-automatic; I was playing with graphite powder and looking at what I was doing.  I haven’t worked out how to fix it to the paper.

More semi-automatic drawings followed, in these I was not looking at the original, it is in my head, more or less.  I am just trying to get to know it. 

I am becoming very interested in Tiresias.  One of the reasons he is embodied and stands out from the coil of spirits is that he has special powers; he is able to embody himself (the others must drink blood from a sacrifice). His connection to the material world is perhaps due to the fact that he spent 7 years as a woman.  Once, while walking, he saw two snakes copulating and hit them with his stick.  This enraged Hera who turned him into a woman as a punishment (!).  Whilst a woman he became a priestess of Hera and gave birth to a daughter.  During this time he was probably also a prostitute. After 7 years he was allowed to return to being a man.

I added washes to one of the drawings.  Fuseli drew mainly with ink and wash.  His drawings are bizarrely exaggerated, and influenced both the Surrealists and 20th Century super hero cartoonists.  More later….

On the first visit on 12 December 2015 I went looking to see what is on the walls of the public galleries.  I am making work about the representation of older women, and I wanted to see how many and what sort there might be in public, not hidden in the vaults.  There werent many; a few portraits of wives, opera singers and one of the Davies sisters from Gregynog, Margaret (described as a profoundly sympathetic image of a woman at the onset of old age, Im not sure why), and that was about it, apart from a satirical cartoon of Lloyd George as a Welsh old lady and a Frenchman, seen as equally dreadful things by the cartoonist Edward Tennyson Reed , who was ageist, sexist and racist all in one.  The caption underneath reads:

Cer-taine lee!  I am altogezzer vat you call a French!!  Voyez-vous, I just put on ze at of ze Velsh old La-dy and it make a vairy nice  top-at of ze boulevardier, nest ce pas?!!

The painting that most interested me is by Fuseli, taken from Greek mythology; Teiresias foretells the future to Odysseus, 1780-85. A grey, wraithlike woman wilts between two men.  Too etiolated to have many distinguishing features, her age is uncertain, but the label said that she was Odysseuss mother. Although also dead, Tiresias is depicted in as corporeal a way as Odysseus, but his mother is almost invisible, in monochrome, her arms still crossed over her chest as if she is still in the coffin and has no energy even to move. 

Thinking about it on the long drive home with Andrew and Noelle I still wasnt sure if I had finally chosen my work, but now I know it is right.   The more I find out about it the more I am charged by my choice.


Anticleia, maquette, February 2015

Further research told me that the womans name was Anticleia (literally without fame).  She was the daughter of Autolycus and Amphithea and mother of
Odysseus by Laertes (though some say by Sisyphus, who seduced or raped her because her father had stolen his sheep).  She was the granddaughter of the god Hermes who was the father of her father.  She is defined by her family relationships, mostly masculine, and only appears in this section of the Odyssey as a cypher to let Odysseus know what is going on at home with his wife and son. 

I hadnt expected many examples of older women, perhaps a few crones, and I was right. Anticleia is perfect for my purpose, as a suitable representative of invisible, underestimated and overlooked older women (like me).

Anticlea Elegans

There is a single flower named after her, Anticlea Elegans, or Mountain Death Camas, a small white lily whose flowers are extremely poisonous.

I have made a drawing of the whole painting and 4 maquettes, 3 of Anticleia on her own, and one of the group of three. 

Tiresias Foretells the Furture to Odesseus, maquette. March 2015

I will go back to the museum and draw the original, which might be a bit difficult as it hangs in a sort of corridor.  I want to spend more time there, to get more of a feel for the place.  It was lovely visiting the museum with the others and going into the vaults and closed rooms.  I love the way a place feels different when I am visiting it in a different role than the usual one. I feel more involved with it, more curious about it and more noticing. This engagement with the place is important to me. It is the connections I make, real and imagined, between my own practice and the chosen art work, its history and the concepts it embodies, the people and the building that will feed my work.

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