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Christine Wilks about IntraVenus

Renee Turner: Can you give me a little background on IntraVenus, meaning what your impetus was to make the work?

Christine Wilks: I created the images some time ago when I was a young art student. At the time I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the predominance of the female nude throughout art history and felt the pressure of this archetypal image (exacerbated by being taught by an almost entirely male staff) was interfering with my ability to visualise myself as a practising artist. I wanted to explore this, to get inside the image and challenge it directly with my own body. I was quite surprised when the images turned out to look so violent, the way my body looked so battered and bruised. It was disturbing, but all the more fitting since my self-image as an artist was bruised.

I ended up with a whole load of 35mm transparencies which I filmed on a 16mm rostrum camera and added a kind of abstract sound track - but I was never entirely happy with this version. I’d reduced myself to an image and hadn’t even given myself a voice. So after showing the work a few times on tour with some other women film-makers, the work languished unseen - or to quote the work itself, IntraVenus laid fallow for many years.

Then in 2004, thanks to getting involved with the trAce online writing centre, I started to create rich media for the web. After many years of going down creative cul-de-sacs or veering off on detours, this finally felt like the perfect arena for me as an artist. Rooting around in some boxes one day, I found the 35mm slides and decided to scan them into my computer. I realised I was finally ready and able to write the soundtrack/voice-over that the images needed.

RT: As a projection, you chose Titian’s Venus of Urbino, why that particular Venus above all others from art history?

CW: I was attracted to her - her fishlike softness, her gaze, the way her hand rests in her crotch, the two women in the background looking in the chest (what are they looking for?). Plus, on a practical level, I found I could fit my body into hers the best. I tried many other images - Manet’s Olympia, Ingre’s Grande Odalisque, Boucher’s Nude on a Sofa, etc. - but Titian’s Venus was the best fit…!

RT: The Muse is on the one hand passive, a classical female nude who is the recipient of the gaze and on the other, without the muse creativity cannot take place. In myth and art history, she is actually the one who ignites the creative process. Can you talk about the some of the contradictions of the Muse as an archetypal female figure within the creative arts? (I imagine this question brings up the fact that you’re a woman making art… and yet art historically, women could inspire but not create.)

CW: Personally, I don’t know whether the idea of the muse is very helpful. Usually I don’t feel the need to personify the source of my creativity, but in this instance, with the repurposing of the images for IntraVenus, it helped me out of an impasse. I wanted to address my situation as a female artist who, in the past, felt she had lost her way and succumbed to unproductive periods, times when it would seem her muse had deserted her… if you believe in that kind of thing… Well, I certainly didn’t then and I didn’t spend my time hanging around, waiting for the muse to strike. But, crucially, I didn’t believe in myself as an artist either. I neglected that vital core of my being. Ironically, it was by tackling head-on the archetypal idea of the female muse that restored me as an artist.

IntraVenus is about taking creative responsibility. As an artist, one must choose one’s own muse. If you choose a damaging muse, a muse that silences you, that batters your creative ego, then it’s going to be a long and difficult struggle - which it was for me… until now. Now I feel free of the dodgy muse that wants to silence me.

Whether your muse, if you need one, is male or female, depends on how the fancy takes you.

RT: Can you discuss the use of projection in the piece and how that works symbolically?

CW: According to Corey Mixon, projection is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one “projects” one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.’ [quote from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_projection]

There’s a strong connection between projecting an image and the concept of psychological projection. I project the object of art, in this case the female nude, the object of the male gaze, onto myself, the subject, the artist. I become both subject and object. It’s my subjective view but it’s complicated because I’ve internalised the objectification of the female body in art and it projects back onto me, doing me visual ‘damage’, interfering with my ability as a female artist to picture myself - both to represent myself visually as unequivocally and sexually female, and to psychologically picture myself as an artist. My internal self-image as an artist becomes distorted and damaged, which inhibits my creativity. For me, psychologically, the only way out of this is to face it and struggle with it, to challenge it, to do battle with the demons. So I project onto myself what I most fear - passivity, being unable to act, being unable to create as an artist - and in the act of doing this, I am creating. It’s the way out.

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