liv fontaine is getting naked in the name of art history
We catch up with the artist to talk fighting misogyny, female empowerment, and what it’s like playing the role of Treacle Fuckface.
Ever since Eve first sunk her teeth into the Forbidden Fruit, nudity has been condemned as something sexual and never without sin, particularly when pertaining to women. That is something Southampton-born performance artist Liv Fontaine is quite keen to correct. Whether it's by chaining herself naked to a plinth, singing along topless to Jolene, or trying her hand at erotic modeling, correcting perceptions is exactly what she does. But it's not all roses: performing totally naked in front of an audience who want nothing other than to objectify and sexualize you is not without its drawbacks. Reprising her plinth performance this Friday at ART15 in Olympia, we catch up with the artist...
Why performance art?
Performance is quite addictive actually, the ever-changing relationship I have as a performer with the audience satisfies me in a way nothing else can. It's so direct, so powerful and full of adrenalin.
What inspires your performances?
What happens to me in my own life and what I see happening to others. The feminist perspective I am coming from is often one of anger. Why is that fucking man rubbing his cock up against my ass while I stand here on the bus? It is also a celebration - a lot of women have done and are doing a lot of powerful, important and still very necessary things.
You use your image as an artistic medium, but do you think you're in control of it on a day-to-day basis?
I'll read the comments about my videos on YouTube: "Great tits, I'd like to fuck her throat." These people have a very different understanding of my image to what I have and I leave it at that. I am trying to undertake a new venture right now as an erotic model. I am still trying to understand my motivations behind this. I feel empowered as I look straight into the camera, straight out at the viewer while exposing myself. I am not vulnerable, but commanding. I am trying to understand the difference between this and my own work where I am exposed. There are all these ideas I am thinking about - reclaiming sex, porn, and satisfaction, owning those, feeling empowered, using them to free myself. I'm don't know whether or not this will be a positive venture but I am excited to find out. I definitely feel in control of my own decisions. Image perhaps results from this.
A lot of your performances feature the character Treacle Fuckface, can you explain a bit about her?
She is a character I played for many years in my work. She is a lusty busty exhibitionist. She is militant in her agenda. She is a prostitute. She feels no shame. She owns subjectivity, never allowing herself to be objectified. She is my role model.
In what way does your work comment on representations of women in the media?
My work is a direct reaction to representations of women in the media, which are absurd and a non-reality. Desperately emulating and idolizing the impossible, the characters I play surrender themselves to promoted notions and thoughts such as: "I need to be successful." "I must be aesthetically satisfying myself." "Men have to want to fuck me." "Why am I not that thin?" "Why the fuck don't I look like that?" It can seem hilarious but produces a very familiar feeling of a mundane reality. This isn't body positive. With my characters I try to expose the absurdity and the inequality, the patriarchy - we know it's the men who control the media. I do this in the only way I see appropriate: an equally absurd manner but without the tricks.
You once chained yourself naked to a plinth, how does nudity affect the meaning of the overall work?
This work was about the classic nude and the plinth, the weight of this history and then the fetishization of this object - this art specific item so phallic and aggressive. So of course I had to be naked. It was very much an impact piece. A few days before the show I freaked out, I thought I didn't want to be exposed in this way becoming a sexual object rather than a powerful subject. I emailed the curator, told him I was wearing panties and then the morning of the show I just thought get a damn grip. I was allowing those ideas of nudity being associated with shameful and dirty sex to infiltrate my mind. I needed to be naked; I had to represent the idea of the classic nude in a credible way. Fuck other people's ideas of sex that they place on you. Without that conviction I would never have been able to reclaim the idea of the classic nude in the piece - an intention of mine.
Female nudity is mostly seen as being sexual, and as you said, dirty or shameful, but a lot of feminist activist groups use nudity as a means of protest, how do you feel about that?
We should use all means necessary. We don't have to justify our nudity or be ashamed of our bodies. The problem with the way nudity is sexualized in media, advertising, or porn is that it then becomes this filthy smutty thing. A lot of people are disgusted by sex - they attach shame and offense to it. Women bear the brunt of this, which puts them in a very vulnerable position. Look at this whole Free The Nipple thing. Facebook and Instagram are so offended by the female nipple, trapping it in a box of dirty sex and shame, that it has been banned! We are blinded by this ridiculous song and dance and the things that are actually offensive, actually harmful to us, don't even get talked about.
There is a lot of performance involved in the mechanics of social media, as an artist how do you feel about things like Instagram and Facebook?
For a long time I was kind of against putting it all out there. The bombardment of information isn't particularly helpful. It's totally devoid of idea. I didn't want my work to become just the information of another naked woman. Just a shiny surface that glimmers for half a second before we all get off on the next. The internet has diluted everything and even fucking porn is boring now. Also, a lot of agendas are being pushed through social media; they are being decorated with beauty or sex. I don't know about this. You see a lot of pictures of young girls. It's so sexualized, but it's not - but it is. But it's labeled as 'consensual', so it's deemed as being 'ok', and so not 'objectification'…. I'm saying don't try and confuse us - don't try and delude yourself. I still feel like we have a fight on our hands. I'm not about to roll over on the grass in a crochet bikini.
How would you like to be remembered?
Good friend / gutter slut / cunt celebrator / great hair / freedom pursuer.