MA2 term two - Alice Oliver

Feedback from unit 2a 

You have ramped up the production of your work in many innovative ways.  You have researched a great deal of material about historical reproductive practices, plant-based photographic processes, and using the moon to expose the photographic paper.  You write about the practice more easily than you discuss it in person and in fact the texts published in the link you included frame the photographs historically, conceptually, and physically. They offer another layer to engage with, in both the bringing together of women’s health histories but also with photography.  They provide a way to incorporate the photographs with the text. Please consider publishing a book!

 

You articulate the ‘loss of control’ with the gaining of working in tandem with the cycle of the moon. (I wonder if this syncs with your own menstrual cycle as well?) You work independently from the college at home using your own resources which is brilliant but does mean that you have reduced contact with your peers in college and a number of programme wide events that you have been absent from.  (You might have really enjoyed Greta Alfaro’s talk in her show!)

Your new work addresses the role of photography in visualising knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body that became lost to women in the face of modern medicine. These skills in caring for and maintaining women’s bodies were deemed to be a threat to those in power within patriarchal societies and terrible violence was used to suppress the transmission of unauthorised skills that once sustained women’s sexual reproductive lives. By changing the photographic processes from chemical to plant-based, you are marrying form and content.  This is a huge and important step and underpins the importance of the quality of the lunar photograms and the paper they exist on. The digital scans lose those aesthetically beautiful qualities. The task now is to continue to experiment at a larger scale but also to consider how the prints are received by the viewer.  Are they experienced as pretty photographic prints or are they obliging the viewer to consider the visualisation of women’s knowledge that was actively obscured from sight? Can you make me, as a viewer, feel as though visualising this knowledge is illicit or threatening? (We mentioned the change in abortion law in the USA.) Perhaps you might try installing the prints in low light conditions to make them harder to see or perhaps you might use an enormous scale to intimidate the viewer? 

Women from ancient Egyptian times to the fifteenth century had relied on an extensive pharmacopeia of herbal abortifacients and contraceptives to regulate fertility. But why, if women once had access to effective means of birth control, was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? What happened between the fifteenth century and modern medicine?

The cycles of the moon determine our monthly and yearly calendars, with an ancient light that has ruled our lives since the beginning of time. The changes that come with each passing moon have been seen to indicate the times for planting, harvesting, hunting, and gathering, reflecting the close connection between cycles of the moon and plants and non-human life.

 

The moon has also always been seen as a female energy, connected with fertility and similarities have been found between the menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle. The inner rhythms of the menstruating body have been considered to synchronise with those inner rhythms of the moon. Menstruating bodies mirror the moon's waxing and waning stages of approximately fourteen days, producing a twenty-eight-day cycle equal to the average menstrual cycle. To go through a cycle of new growth is consistent with these ancient cyclical ideas of ovulation, flowering, harvest, degeneration, and replenishment. This period of change or transformation in the menstruating body is in tune with lunar energies, a celestial relationship that dates back to the beginning of evolution when beings were exposed to moon cycles for thousands of years before being exposed to artificial light. In an environment with solely natural light - solar and lunar, menstruating bodies were found to do so on the new moon and ovulated on the full moon, linking with fertility and harvest, all timed to the natural rhythms.

Healing has always been regarded as the natural responsibility of women. With techniques learned and passed down through history, observed from one woman and passed on. But because women were excluded from academic institutions, female healers of the past had little opportunity to contribute to the science of medicine. Instead, they served as herbalists, midwives,  nurses, and empirics, the traditional healers. Untutored in medicine, they used botanical-based therapies and traditional home remedies, amongst many other techniques derived from their ancient native intelligence of the land. Their remedies and medications, which were made up of predominately plant matter, brought a lot of superstition, lack of understanding, and suspected charlatanism. This is how the 'Witch' was born.

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Winter Solstice 2021 under the Cold Moon

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Darkroom set up in an old cow shed, using large trays of chemicals to feed the moonlight exposed paper through

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Lunaria

Lunar Photogram

Dried seed heads symbolise fertility

Fallen by the Wayside

 

Alice Oliver

Phytomedicines have been utilised since the beginning of time, and have been used to regulate fertility as contraceptives, emmenagogues, abortifacients, and fertility stimulants for much longer than we might realise. Our hedgerows and waysides are still, to this day, rich with plants that were once used to control fertility hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Alice reveals and visualises the knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body that became lost to women in the face of modern medicine. These skills in healing, caring for and maintaining women’s bodies were seen as a threat to those in power within patriarchal societies; Witchcraft. Women have historically been seen to have an inherent responsibility to heal. With practices learnt and passed down throughout history from one woman to another. But due to women being excluded from academia, female healers of the past had little chance to contribute to medical knowledge. Consequently, they acted as midwives, nurses, empirics and herbalists. Their medicines and treatments were mostly comprised of natural plant matter, but with that they brought a lot of superstition, and lack of understanding. Research shows that women have depended on a vast pharmacopoeia of herbal contraceptives and abortifacients, to regulate fertility, from as early as ancient Egyptian times through to the fifteenth century.

The biopolitical control over of women is a key discussion within Alice’s practice, where she has been uncovering the measures women have taken, throughout history, to remain in control of their own bodies. On an intimate yet urgent level, Alice investigate’s the intimate cyclical connections between women, the celestial bodies, and the land. Unveiling lost narratives by visualising the rituals and knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body, ancient knowledge that was stripped from women in the face of modern medicine. The work seeks to awaken us from our latent and patriarchal origins that deemed the skills of healing, caring for, and maintaining women’s bodies, a threat to those in power. In this interchange within the natural elements, cyclical traces emerge as Alice utilises the powerful flora that was once used as contraceptives or abortifacients alongside the ancient light of the moon to shed light on our histories.

Within a contemporary feminist discourse, Alice retells the deeply intimate connections between human and non-human nature and a reclamation of the power women once had over their own bodies. Giving an alternate viewpoint, transcending what was once considered impermissible. Tracing the natural materials, that women once used, of the land and the moon, she combines tangible cameraless methods with digital techniques, to create ethereal landscapes that walk the fine line between art and science. Tying us not only to one another but also to nonhuman beings we find within nature, revealing how intrinsically interconnected humans are within the natural processes of the land and the stratosphere beyond.

Fallen by the Wayside

 

Alice Oliver

Phytomedicines have been utilised since the beginning of time, and have been used to regulate fertility as contraceptives, emmenagogues, abortifacients, and fertility stimulants for much longer than we might realise. Our hedgerows and waysides are still, to this day, rich with plants that were once used to control fertility hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Alice reveals and visualises the knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body that became lost to women in the face of modern medicine. These skills in healing, caring for and maintaining women’s bodies were seen as a threat to those in power within patriarchal societies; Witchcraft. Women have historically been seen to have an inherent responsibility to heal. With practices learnt and passed down throughout history from one woman to another. But due to women being excluded from academia, female healers of the past had little chance to contribute to medical knowledge. Consequently, they acted as midwives, nurses, empirics and herbalists. Their medicines and treatments were mostly comprised of natural plant matter, but with that they brought a lot of superstition, and lack of understanding. Research shows that women have depended on a vast pharmacopoeia of herbal contraceptives and abortifacients, to regulate fertility, from as early as ancient Egyptian times through to the fifteenth century.

The biopolitical control over of women is a key discussion within Alice’s practice, where she has been uncovering the measures women have taken, throughout history, to remain in control of their own bodies. On an intimate yet urgent level, Alice investigate’s the intimate cyclical connections between women, the celestial bodies, and the land. Unveiling lost narratives by visualising the rituals and knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body, ancient knowledge that was stripped from women in the face of modern medicine. The work seeks to awaken us from our latent and patriarchal origins that deemed the skills of healing, caring for, and maintaining women’s bodies, a threat to those in power. In this interchange within the natural elements, cyclical traces emerge as Alice utilises the powerful flora that was once used as contraceptives or abortifacients alongside the ancient light of the moon to shed light on our histories.

Within a contemporary feminist discourse, Alice retells the deeply intimate connections between human and non-human nature and a reclamation of the power women once had over their own bodies. Giving an alternate viewpoint, transcending what was once considered impermissible. Tracing the natural materials, that women once used, of the land and the moon, she combines tangible cameraless methods with digital techniques, to create ethereal landscapes that walk the fine line between art and science. Tying us not only to one another but also to nonhuman beings we find within nature, revealing how intrinsically interconnected humans are within the natural processes of the land and the stratosphere beyond.

Under the Wolf Moon of 2022

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Silvia Federici - Caliban and the Witch and Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women

- The central question Federici seeks to address is why this deeply misogynistic practice took hold at a time when modern ideas of science, economics and the bourgeois class were in the ascendency.

- Feminists and historians have pointed to the decline of magic, and the fear of women’s reproductive power in the Enlightenment period, as a key to the understanding the widespread persecution of women as witches – rational science bumping up with and asserting itself over the old world, by containing women’s messy, irrational bodies and destroying traditional knowledge of childbirth and healing practices.

- Silvia Federici notes that the political class and religious institutions that colluded in the witch-hunts of the early modern era have never acknowledged, or indeed apologised for, the mass murder of women that took place.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire:

...

Alex Long Yuan:

Becky Beasley:

Exhibition contexts and materials:

I think when these images are first seen it's almost impossible to know the meaning behind them so the method of exhibiting showing the viewer the meaning is important. "Are they experienced as pretty photographic prints or are they obliging the viewer to consider the visualisation of women’s knowledge that was actively obscured from sight?" I think a two perscpective encounter would be interesting. At first you see what you may consider beautiful prints, in a context that plays to the medical side of things, this juxtoposition would draw people in. I would like to have my Lunargrams of the wayside, abundent with herbal contraceptives and abortificients, to be printed on to fabric. The fabric choice would be important, something natural like cotton or muslin, that women would have used in the herbal medicating. "Women would soak cotton or lint in the juice of the herb and insert it into their vaginas to prevent pregnancy." As the Lunargram prints I have been making are long and thin, this makes me think of curatins. Leading me on to medical privacy curtains they have in hospitals and doctors. As secrecy and privacy are words that come up a lot when discussing topics such as contraceptives and Abortions, which still hold a lot of stigma today. 

Materials:

 

Fabric 

"Women would soak cotton or lint in the juice of the herb and insert it into their vaginas to prevent pregnancy."

Prints are long stips - Reminds me of curtains - Medical curtains - Privacy 

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Fallen by the Wayside

 

Alice Oliver

Phytomedicines have been utilised since the beginning of time, and have been used to regulate fertility as contraceptives, emmenagogues, abortifacients, and fertility stimulants for much longer than we might realise. Our hedgerows and waysides are still, to this day, rich with plants that were once used to control fertility hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Alice reveals and visualises the knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body that became lost to women in the face of modern medicine. These skills in healing, caring for and maintaining women’s bodies were seen as a threat to those in power within patriarchal societies; Witchcraft. Women have historically been seen to have an inherent responsibility to heal. With practices learnt and passed down throughout history from one woman to another. But due to women being excluded from academia, female healers of the past had little chance to contribute to medical knowledge. Consequently, they acted as midwives, nurses, empirics and herbalists. Their medicines and treatments were mostly comprised of natural plant matter, but with that they brought a lot of superstition, and lack of understanding. Research shows that women have depended on a vast pharmacopoeia of herbal contraceptives and abortifacients, to regulate fertility, from as early as ancient Egyptian times through to the fifteenth century.

The biopolitical control over of women is a key discussion within Alice’s practice, where she has been uncovering the measures women have taken, throughout history, to remain in control of their own bodies. On an intimate yet urgent level, Alice investigate’s the intimate cyclical connections between women, the celestial bodies, and the land. Unveiling lost narratives by visualising the rituals and knowledge of the sexual and reproductive female body, ancient knowledge that was stripped from women in the face of modern medicine. The work seeks to awaken us from our latent and patriarchal origins that deemed the skills of healing, caring for, and maintaining women’s bodies, a threat to those in power. In this interchange within the natural elements, cyclical traces emerge as Alice utilises the powerful flora that was once used as contraceptives or abortifacients alongside the ancient light of the moon to shed light on our histories.

Within a contemporary feminist discourse, Alice retells the deeply intimate connections between human and non-human nature and a reclamation of the power women once had over their own bodies. Giving an alternate viewpoint, transcending what was once considered impermissible. Tracing the natural materials, that women once used, of the land and the moon, she combines tangible cameraless methods with digital techniques, to create ethereal landscapes that walk the fine line between art and science. Tying us not only to one another but also to nonhuman beings we find within nature, revealing how intrinsically interconnected humans are within the natural processes of the land and the stratosphere beyond.