Just a dancer doing stuff. Living life, making art. Like you do.
Barf as art? Millie Brown makes her living as a “vomit artist” by regurgitating colored milk onto canvases — something I’d normally be willing to let slide because, let’s be honest, that’s nowhere near as gross as the lady who paints with her own menstrual blood or the woman who uses her pectoral pineapples as paintbrushes. But last weekend Brown made headlines for turning her work into performance art when she went on stage with Lady Gaga at SXSW. (For my mom and anyone else who is firing up ye old search engine: South by Southwest is an arts and music festival in Austin, Texas that used to be considered indie but now that Lady Gaga is there is basically the I Heart Radio festival but with cooler souvenirs.) During Gaga’s song “Swine”, Brown joined her on stage, swallowed some green glittery liquid, stuck her fingers down her throat and puked all over Gaga. No security guards rushed the stage because Brown wasn’t just a Little Monster gone rogue, she was part of the act.
That’s right, Lady Gaga, who in the past has spoken openly about her struggles with bulimia, used self-induced purging as an art prop in one of her shows. For the woman who wore a dress made out of real meat and once pretended to have real horn implants, this may seem passé but I was not amused and neither were many other former and current eating disorder sufferers. Critics called it “bulimia chic” and compared it to the “Auschwitz chic” movement of several years ago that sought to glamorize anorexia.
Brown justified it, tweeting, “I believe in absolute freedom of expression. Challenging perceptions of art & beauty. If art is your communication it should not be censored.” She added that her “art” does not affect her health or diet in any way — a statement which I’m not sure is even possible. Even if her puking isn’t emotionally or mentally damaging, it is still certainly taking a toll on her body. Here are just a few of the physical consequences of repeated vomiting: Tooth decay, electrolyte imbalances, inflammation & rupture of the esophagus, heart failure, erosion of dental enamel from vomiting, chronic sore throat, indigestion, heartburn and reflux. Seems like a pretty big sacrifice for “art.”
Another celeb famous for bulimia and self-harm, Demi Lovato struck back in her own series of tweets, writing, “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences.” The singer added, “Sad… As if we didn’t have enough people glamorizing eat disorders already. Bottom line, it’s not “cool” or “artsy” at all.”
I gotta say I agree with Lovato all the way on this one. I’ve seen a lot of eating disorder-driven art (I think art therapy is a part of nearly every ED treatment I’ve ever come across) and I don’t think it’s sacrosanct when it comes to public scrutiny or commentary if you put it in a public venue. BUT. Gaga and Brown’s performance added nothing to the discussion of a problem that, as Gaga herself pointed out, afflicts so many people. Except maybe to encourage them to glam up their gastric geysers with glitter?
Like I do with most artists, I wanted to give Gaga the benefit of the doubt, so I read through the lyrics for “Swine” hoping to find some kind of insight or connection. Nope. I don’t think the song is at all referencing eating disorders although honestly I don’t know because it read like word soup. Cooked by the Swedish Chef. While high. (And I’m not talking runners’ highs this time.) In the end, I don’t think this was even Gaga trying to “make art.” I think this is her desperate to stay in the public eye and she’s running out of ways to shock. Unfortunately the only thing that shocks me about this is how out-of-touch she is with her fan base.
I’m sure this makes me sound old. Whatever. Get off my lawn.
But if you want to see art that celebrates the diversity of the human experience, done right, then check out Humans of New York. A friend introduced me to this site – part street fashion, part documentary, part flash interview – awhile ago and sometimes it makes me smile, other times it makes me teary, occasionally angry but always, always it makes me think. I feel like a better person for having seen it. I feel more connected to other people. I feel like maybe I understand their struggles a little bit better. And THAT is what human art should do.
Here are a few of my recent faves:
“The Universe gave him to me.”
“What’s his name?”
“Black Mamba.” (source)
“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“In every situation, choose love.”
“When is it most difficult to choose love?”
“When it involves someone close to you.” (source)
“Where I grew up, everyone wanted to be the hardest thug. I just want to be an Average Joe. My goal is to get to a place where I can wake up knowing that I’ll be fine if I don’t make any money today.” (source)
“People have problems at home and they take it out on other people. That’s why things are bad. And it just goes on and on.” (source)
I asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
He screamed: “A benny!”
“What’s a benny?” I asked.
“That’s his name,” said his mom. (source)
Okay, so that last one isn’t strictly human but COME ON. Don’t you feel better now?
This picture is from the MAGNIFICENT site Dancers Among Us that captures professional dancers doing “every day” things. Warning: You will get sucked into this site for hours.
Now, I’m not saying there’s no room for provocation or controversy or ugliness in art but it needs to be done in a meaningful way. If the artist is thoughtless in the execution then they can’t blame the rest of us for not wanting to waste our time thinking about it. And I don’t want to think about Lady Gaga turning bulimia into a trick. It lacks authenticity. So If you’ll excuse me I’ll be off looking up more pictures of real moments.
What do you think of Lady Gaga’s barf art? Do you have a favorite example or site that uses human beings as art to inspire you or help you understand people?