Maiden Voyages: May 2015

I am publishing this installment a little early because of an important item Pip and I felt should be published right away.

Sally Mann Speaks: I am planning a substantial post on Sally Mann this summer. Many readers have seen a number of her images involving her three children. However, few people truly appreciate the depth of this artist. When I first saw the documentary What Remains, that is when I officially fell in love with this generous, thoughtful and sophisticated soul. Most people are also familiar with the small-minded commentary she has received for exposing her children in this way or the superficial and low-minded comments about the children’s physical attributes. A new development—to the general public, anyway—is that at least one disturbing “fan” has been obsessed with the family and pestered friends and neighbors for small personal details about the children’s lives. The upsetting thing about law enforcement is with this kind domestic terrorism, its hands are tied while the federal government takes great liberties in attacking those who threaten so-called US interests in the name of self defense. Mann was fortunate to find one compassionate agent in the FBI who tried to advise her on how to handle this interloper, who never went so far as to actually step onto the property. This latest revelation comes from The New York Times Magazine article based on excerpts from a book, Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs, being released in the coming month. Anyone interested in Mann’s story or in the complexities of children exposed to public scrutiny are encouraged to read it. Once I have assimilated this new information, Pigtails will be featuring this artist in a more thorough post. So many of Sally Mann’s decisions and experiences are relevant to the issues that Pigtails in Paint tries to address. For starters, Pip and I wanted to emphasize that obsessive and aggressive behavior of this kind is never acceptable, even when there was no malevolent intent. Mann has been very generous in sharing these intimate family moments and she, her husband and children deserved a safe place to develop and express their own humanity.

The Secret Lives of Girls: Pip—in comments and personal correspondence—has mentioned an excellent book that I have finally gotten around to. I dare say it should be required reading for any girl, woman or man who truly respects girls and women. It is called The Secret Lives of Girls by Sharon Lamb. Many authors have tried to deal with the subject of aggression and sexuality before, but Lamb so skillfully brings out the intricacies of the interaction of these two qualities and dispels myths about what is “normal”. I was able to find it in my local library, so it should be readily available to most of our readers who live in English-speaking countries. I have maintained for a long time that although children are sexual creatures, it is not of the same order as adult sexuality and any arguments promoting sexual interaction with adults are tenuous at best. Sexuality is a sensitive subject and every society has rules of proper conduct. What I found illuminating is that girls take the initiative to find ways of educating themselves so long as they do not find themselves in families or societies that are too oppressive. This plays right into gender standards—both male and female—that is causing so much of the psychic distress right now.

Facebook Rules: This is a short item and a reality check for internet sites and services that profess to uphold society’s standards while trying to offer maximum personal freedom. The web is supposed to optimize these possibilities and Facebook management is realizing that it is not a simple matter of having a blanket policy about content. You can read more about it here.

In the interest of timeliness, I am posting this on April 18th and later it will be post-dated to the beginning of May. -Ron

Porcelain Dolls

A traditional craft in some parts of Germany and in neighboring regions such as Alsace is the making of dolls whose head, neck, forearms and lower legs are in porcelain. Often their facial features are painted by hand, and nice dolls have their eyes in painted glass, with eyelashes attached to the eyelids. The rest of the body, being covered by clothes, usually consists of padded tissue.

Dolls can be found in various styles. Some resemble young women and look a bit like Barbie, while others represent babies or toddlers. But the classical model is the “romantic” doll, a 9-year-old girl dressed in Victorian style with a robe going down just under the knees, bloomers covering the legs and high laced boots; they generally have long hair, often with plaits. The price varies according to size and quality, but you can count 150€ (about $159 US) for a good quality 60cm doll.

In order to make them stand upright, one fastens around their waist a metallic holder attached to a wooden base. Under the base of the ones I have, there is a warning label:

Purely decorative item. Not suitable as a toy for children!

Indeed, porcelain dolls are a gift for adults, not for children. Adult fans will collect them, cherishing and admiring each one.

I will present here photographs of my dolls as they stand in their “natural environment” inside my apartment. I start with one that I bought second-hand in a flea market in Brussels at the end of the eighties. It is not particularly beautiful, her eyes are just painted, but her pale lunar appearance imparts to her some mystery and for a long time I fancied her having magical powers. She sits next to my CDs and DVDs.

doll1BrusselsI have another old doll of a similar style, which I bought last year in a second-hand shop in Strasbourg. She reminded me that a second-hand doll is sometimes like a neglected child, left alone in a dusty place, who needs care. To make her pretty again, I had to wash her robe and bloomers, brush her face and hands with a soap-covered toothbrush, shampoo her hair then untangle them individually (a comb is too hard). Now she sits as a shy girl in an old chair on a small table next to a big dresser.

doll2OldMy other dolls were new ones bought in a souvenir shop. I show first the “twins”. I bought them the same day, they are the same size (32cm) and they stand facing each other in a showcase. I like the quite modern pink clothes of the second one; they give her a very sensual look.

doll3Blue doll4PinkThe next one (40cm without the hat), my latest acquisition, is special because her face looks more like that of a 5-year-old.

doll5BabyMy sixth doll (42cm without the cap), standing over my writing desk, has quite rustic clothes but her deep eyes captivate me sometimes.

doll6GreenThe next one (49cm without the hat) is in my bedroom. Look into her eyes; she seems so serious!

doll7BedroomI end with my two big ones. First a gorgeous redhead (58cm without the hat) with a beautiful robe covered with flowers; as it fits, she stands over a marble table.

doll8RedheadAnd now for my biggest and favorite (60cm). Her grey clothes are modest, but her face and smile ravish me, especially with her head slightly tilted to the right. Her hairstyle is very original, she has short hair overall, with two long plaits on each side; notice also the long side-locks in front of her ears, exactly like the “payot” worn by orthodox Jewish men and boys. She stands next to my computer and guards me when I am communicating or blogging through the Internet.

doll9PayotHere is a close-up of her beautiful face.

dollPayot-headCollecting dolls requires patience. Often one finds some whose face or smile is not engaging, or whose hands look crooked. A careful examination, especially of the porcelain parts, is necessary before purchasing it.

Southern Blossoms: Pati Bannister

Pati Bannister (1929–2013) was born in London and knew at a young age that she wanted to be an artist. By age 13, she was already illustrating books.

“I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon. My mother saved some of my work done when I was two in a family album. My father was one of England’s most noted artists. I was surrounded by creativity, and drawing and painting were an integral part of my life…Yet I knew I didn’t want to do real portraits all my life, I wanted to do faces I imagined…”

She emigrated to the United States in 1952 and became an American citizen. In the late 50s, she moved to Florida where she met and married Glynn Bannister who recognized her talent. He not only encouraged her to pursue her art, but used his business acumen to help her become commercially successful. Her earliest efforts were in New Orleans then the couple settled in Gulfport, Mississippi where the artist painted and made bronze sculptures in a studio overlooking a bird sanctuary and beach. Due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Bannister shut down her studio and retired from the print market in 2006. Her originals were once housed at the now defunct Teri Galleries in Metairie, Louisiana and it is not known if they will be made available again for public viewing.

Bannister painted girls and women exclusively using acrylics, oil and pastels, but her favorite medium was egg tempera. As an avid seamstress, she paid special attention to the detail of her subjects’ clothing. She did not use live models, claiming that when she got an idea, she could visualize it as a finished color painting. However she did make use of real backgrounds and props from her personal collection. Her fondness for flowers is unmistakable and specimens from her own garden also served as models. She said she always kept an eye out for some interesting item she could use in a future painting. She successfully captured the essence of the Southern sensibility and her girls and young women offer us an idyllic dream of beauty. However, one cannot help but feel that, under the surface, there is a seething desire to be liberated from the pretty constraints of the Southern Belle. Bannister’s work has been featured many times on the covers of magazines and gallery catalogs.

“The arts are our humanity. Without the arts we are just animals; that is what makes us different.”

Pati Bannister - Chapter One (1989)

Pati Bannister – Chapter One (1989)

Pati Bannister - The Dollhouse (1992)

Pati Bannister – The Dollhouse (1992)

Pati Bannister - Enchanted Evening (1998)

Pati Bannister – Enchanted Evening (1998)

Pati Bannister - The Swing (1999)

Pati Bannister – The Swing (1999)

Pati Bannister - Scent of Summer (2001)

Pati Bannister – Scent of Summer (2001)

Pati Bannister - Swan Lake (2002)

Pati Bannister – Swan Lake (2002)

Pati Bannister - Dogwood (2003)

Pati Bannister – Dogwood (2003)

Pati Bannister - Peony (2004)

Pati Bannister – Peony (2004)

Bannister was a prolific artist and her prints can be readily found advertised on the secondary market.

Louis Malle, Part 1: Zazie dans le métro

Even before I met Pip Starr, I made an attempt to acquaint myself with some of the great directors of foreign films—foreign to Americans, anyhow. Louis Malle (1932–1995) is an interesting case in point because he began as a French film director and later directed American films. I had seen a number of his films including Pretty Baby, but when I first discussed Malle with Pip, he told me about two films I had not heard of: Zazie dans le métro (1960) and Black Moon. The three films are quite different from each other and yet they each feature a young girl playing a leading role in the film. I will be reviewing the other two shortly.

Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) is a 10-year-old girl who is dropped off for a couple of days to stay with an uncle living in Paris. It is explained that Jeanne, the mother, does this every so often when she has a whirlwind romance with someone new. Here the girl is affectionately greeting her uncle, Gabriel.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (1)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (1)

One of the things she is looking forward to taking a ride on the Métro, the city’s rail line. She is disappointed to learn that it is shut down due to a worker’s strike.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (2)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (2)

As she is driven to her uncle’s flat, we get a clear picture of her impertinent and refreshing candor in dealing with the adults in her world. Gabriel’s wife Albertine prepares dinner and Zazie talks about becoming a schoolteacher. Why? Because, in her mischief, she wants the pleasure of driving each new class of students crazy!

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (3)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (3)

After going to bed, she is roused by a visit from the landlord who insists that Gabriel not keep that brat in his place.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (4)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (4)

After overhearing this, she does whatever she can to make trouble for him. In the morning, before her uncle gets up, she dresses and goes out on the town without an escort. The landlord notices this and chases her. She escapes by making a scene and telling the people who gather that he said some bad things to her so that the group mobs him.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (5)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (5)

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (6)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (6)

She goes back to the Métro entrance to find that it is still shut down. She bawls melodramatically until a man shows up with a sock puppet to cheer her up. Although he insists that he simply loves children, she is no fool. She calls him a dirty old man but, as you can see, she does so playfully and goes along with him anyway to the marketplace.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (7)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (7)

She cons him into buying her a pair of jeans and he treats her to lunch. Here we see her checking herself out in the mirror with her new acquisition.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (8)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (8)

After lunch, she abruptly runs off and the man chases after her. It is apparent by this point in the film that many of the scenes were shot by slowing the film stock to parody the fast motion of a silent slapstick film. In an interesting scene, she hides among a set of identically dressed mannequins to confuse the pursuer.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (9)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (9)

After a series of comical and melodramatic tactics, she laughs maniacally after making her final escape.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (10)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (10)

She puts on her new blue jeans before going out again with her uncle and his chauffeur, Charles. It appears that the film maker was using the jeans as a symbol of a Zazie’s growing up.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (11)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (11)

They begin at the Eiffel tower and as she and Charles are climbing down—they get momentarily separated from Gabriel—they have a frank but comical conversation about homosexuality, how some girls get married at 12 and why Charles isn’t married.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (12)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (12)

The film gets increasingly surreal as it progresses so, suffice it to say, Zazie is swept along in a series of adventures involving the antics and interactions between Madame Mouaque, a policeman and the rest of the characters.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (13)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (13)

The amusing irony is that by the time the Métro is running again, Zazie is so exhausted, she sleeps through the whole thing.

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (14)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (14)

When her mother picks her up and asks her if anything happened, she simply answers “I got older.”

Louis Malle - Zazie dans le métro (1960) (15)

Louis Malle – Zazie dans le métro (1960) (15)

The film is remarkable the way it deals with serious subjects in such a light-hearted way. Never does the viewer feel that Zazie is in any real danger. Somehow, she knows how to handle herself and whenever characters take themselves too seriously, they are made to appear foolish.

Joshua Hoffine

Horror isn’t a common theme featured here on Pigtails, but when a talented photographer blends common childhood fears with the presence of young girls it deserves to be brought to the readers.  Joshua Hoffine, born in Emporia, KS in 1973 and graduated from KSU with a degree in English Literature, is currently a freelance photographer who started his career with Hallmark Greeting Cards as a photo assistant.  Hoffine then branched out from wedding photography to explore the darker side of humanity by creating a series of horror photographs featuring two of his young daughters in various nightmare type scenarios.  Hoffine’s elaborate sets have the look of a mini movie studio as he and his crew captured the essence of a frightening childhood world.  When asked why he used young girls in his photographs, he states “The little girl as an archetype represents innocence and vulnerability.”  Another reason he mentioned is practical because he has four daughters and no sons.  Using family and friends to portray the evil entity in the photographs, Hoffine reassures everyone that in no way were his daughters afraid of the sessions and that they compared it to playing “dress up.”  Featured below are several examples of Hoffine’s work from the series After Dark My Sweet; more can be found on his website with prints available for purchase in his store.

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Joshua Hoffine – Closet (date unknown)

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Joshua Hoffine – Wolf (date unknown)

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Joshua Hoffine – Couch (date unknown)

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Joshua Hoffine – Bed (date unknown)

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Joshua Hoffine – Candy (date unknown)

Hoffine has recently taken a hand in filmmaking.  His first effort, Black Lullaby, stars his daughter Chloe and Bob Barber (as the monster) and can be viewed on Vimeo.

Joshua Hoffine Fan Page

Becoming-Girl

Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman began working collaboratively in the very early 1990s.  Their work then, as now, featured mannequins in dark and provocative scenes.  A number of their installations seem to deal with the subject of girls, despite denial by the artists.  The Chapman brothers’ art deals with some heavy ideas and during interviews they quote readily from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Deleuze.  Jake has discussed being strongly influenced by Georges Bataille’s On Nietzsche, Tears of Eros, and Documents magazine.

Nietzsche had opined in Birth of Tragedy that art redeems life from the terrible truth that existence is a horror.  With the Chapman brothers’ art, this appears to be in a way reversed: something good and beautiful in reality is perverted by art into the horrible.

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

“There’s nothing we’ve done here that can rival the darkness of the imaginations of children. They aren’t the innocents that adults want them to be.” – Jake Chapman

The brothers’ alleged aim is to incite political dialogue through provocation, while at the same time acknowledging that transgressing boundaries in modern art is no longer possible.  (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: an Interview with Simon Baker.)

A number of critics speculated that Zygotic Acceleration (1995) or Tragic Anatomies (1996) were about the danger of the sexualization of girls: penises and vaginas attached to the faces of the girls and so on.  Despite the death of the author, the brothers nonetheless interjected in the discussion and denied that this is what their collections were about—perhaps sensing that that would truly have been a provocative topic and preferring to stay in the safe-zone of traditional patriarchal politics and sexual discourse as in Sex (2009), which is a scene of torture, or Death (2003) which is a pair of cheap sex dolls cast in bronze.  The brothers go so far as to claim that the life size models are not even girls.

“For example, a journalist said to us, ‘How can you dare do these things to small girls?’ So you think, well, hold on a minute, let’s just take that question apart – why is it a girl? So the journalist replies and says, ‘Well it’s got long hair and freckles.’ OK. When Jake was a little child he had long hair and freckles, does that mean that he was a girl then and now, miraculously, he’s turned into a man because he’s got short hair and his freckles have gone? He says, ‘No, no, you know what I mean.’ We’re like, no, we actually don’t know what you mean. You’re applying rules to something that they don’t actually apply to. This thing is inanimate, it’s made from resin and paint. It bears 90% relationship to a mannequin, and maybe less than 10% to things that you can buy in Ann Summers [a chain of sex-toy shops]. There’s no point at which you can say this is a child. It might look like a child from the back, but from the front it doesn’t. And then the idea that something with an erect penis on its nose could ever be female is also another problem… It’s an attempt to force people to take into account their bad thinking. ‘Zygotic acceleration…,’ for example, it doesn’t work if you say it’s a child or it’s children; I’ve never seen 20 children fused together with adult genitalia on their faces. […] With the full title of that work, ‘Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000),’ the final part tells you that this is not even a child-sized creature” (Jake & Dinos Chapman Interview, David Barett).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

The Chapman brothers insist that Zygotic Acceleration or Tragic Anatomies are really about moral panic and this is expressed via the subject of genetic engineering (Press Release, Jake and Dinos Chapman: Explaining Christians to Dinosaurs).  Meanwhile, Jake and Dinos are aware that their works have gotten away from them, and Jake acknowledges that their Deleuzian-Guattarian collaboration could not have a single author, purpose or meaning (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: An Interview with Simon Baker).  And indeed, many critics recognized these girls as sexual.

“In relation to the mutant mannequins, we can also speak of the possibilities of a Bataille-like transgression that is closely tied to the experiences of sexuality and the overcoming of sexual taboos” (Press release, SLEPÝ VEDE SLEPÉHO).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

“Shocking, no doubt, the piece is also a discomfiting representation of the sexualisation of children, possibly registering either sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or society’s fears about these crimes. Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is first and foremost a stark way of confronting an audience with a tremendously unpleasant image, alluding to science fiction and medical research and so implicating an aesthetic genre and scientific research in the production of these problematic images; science fiction and scientific research are, respectively, aesthetic and intellectual domains where the horrible and the unsettling become possibilities. Any audience is welcome to view this piece to consider what it says about childhood and sexuality in modern society, providing the audience is willing to see past the piece’s antagonistic visual pun on “in your face” art. […] They usurp childhood innocence with these grotesque hypersexualized plastic replicas, part fashion (mannequins, the signifying sneakers), part “biogenetic” and very disturbing” (John A. Walker and Sarah Chaplin. Visual Culture: An Introduction).

By denying the child sexuality implicit in their work, the Chapman brothers can maintain an artistic respectability and have shows at the Tate gallery, while other artists who have broached the subject of child sexuality and the sexuality of girls have had this possibility taken from them.  The following critic for instance observes how the hideous art of the Chapman brothers maintains its aesthetic value, while by contrast, the beautiful sexualized girls of Graham Ovenden must be bereft of significant value.

“There are a number of contemporary artists who work with controversial imagery, images that when compared to the work of Ovenden (before his conviction), appear much more graphic and overtly perverse. What is it that makes such an extreme form of art no longer suggestive of a lack of moral value? How is it possible that the image of a nude child by Ovenden is worse than a sculpture that at a glance, appears to depict several? Could it be that the extreme nature of works by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman cause us to no longer associate their work with the human condition, as their work appears so non-human, so detached from our own reality. Their 1995 work Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is often misread as the sculpture appears to depict nude, gender neutral children with facial deformations resembling genitalia. It appears particularly grotesque, a sort of macabre reoccurring joke between the two brothers‟ works. […] Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) has a higher value than say an image by Ovenden, as it is not about what you see initially, aesthetically, it is how what you see makes you feel; thus making it a better work of art in comparison. The higher the moral value, the higher the artistic integrity, the higher the merit of the artist and the better the work of art. […] In the past, there have been many instances where art has been deemed immoral and unfit for display, where it was put away, hidden from public view or completely destroyed. […] They were decisions made solely on what a group of people thought was either good or bad art. Questioning the moral value of art and the integrity of the artists who created it was in part responsible for the events that took place during World War II. The Nazis began to make their way into all levels of German society” (Tiffany Horan, Does Art Have Moral Value, and If so, Is Such Value Relevant to Its Assessment as Art?)

Another of the Chapman brothers’ projects that involved the defacing of girls was advertized to the public recently with this quote:

“Children are not human yet” (BBC, August 4, 2014).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

One of the brothers’ installations was at one location, while the other brother showed at a different site, and it was left open as to who created which.  One visitor described the girls as follows:

“The Minderwertigkinder – inferior children (NTS) –  are dressed in black, hoods on, and their back are turned to the entrance. They face One Rabbit Contemplating the Moon (2011) a grimy painting of an extasied cartoon’ish rabbit. The middle of each children’s face is tore apart where a snout, a beak, a trunk bulges out as if in the process of a collective shapeshift. A swastika circled by the message ‘They Teach Us Nothing’ is printed on their jumper – one you can purchase at the entrance.  Up a flight of stairs, one of the Minderwertigkinder – mouse child sits on the ledge of the first floor window. It seems impossible to escape from debilitating dream” (Part #1, Hoxton Square, Jake?)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

The animal feature is described variously as rupturing from the face of the girl or metamorphosing.  Some commentators saw a connection to fairy tales or horror films.  As with the 90s works, is there some redeeming interpretation possible alluding to the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl”?  While the Chapmans reject any teleological interpretations of their work, their girl mannequin series might still be read not as an insult to or desecration of the girl, but as an evolutionary pathway through and even the transcendence of girls, who are never static but always in a state of becoming.

“[G]irls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce in molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. […] The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. […] The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. […] It is Age itself that is a becoming-child, just as Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).

The complete works of Jake and Dinos Chapman can be found at this link.

The Princess’ Bath

An associate who is something of an expert on young girls in film graciously sold some of his hard-to-find titles and gave me some tips on films to review. One of the most charming was a silent film produced in 1917 called Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. The play was put on by The Fox Kiddies. I figured it was a group of contract child players and sought more information online. But I could find no mention of them nor the names of other films they acted in. Older films tend to resemble a theatrical play and when children put on a school play, they naturally have to play adult roles. In this case, all the major roles are performed by the children surrounded by a supporting cast of adults.

Even though the title character is Aladdin (Francis Carpenter), it feels like events are motivated and orchestrated by the Princess (Virginia Lee Corbin) who is not given a name. Her father, the Sultan, is willing to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can present an impressive enough gift. The Sultan’s Magician, the wily al-Talib (Violet Radcliffe) desires her and tries to impress her with some baubles. Insulted, she stomps out protesting that she does not want a husband.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (1)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (1)

She is consoled many times in the film by her loyal handmaid, Yasmini (Gertie Messinger).

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (2)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (2)

One day, the Princess leaves the palace to visit the city marketplace. There, she and Aladdin catch each other’s eye. As a pretense for meeting him, she deliberately drops one of her shoes on the street. Aladdin picks it up and approaches her carriage. Beaming at each other, she tells him he may put it back on her foot. They continue to make eyes at each other as he fumbles around with the shoe.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (3)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (3)

While waiting for her mistress, Yasmini entertains the other slaves with a little dance.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (4)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (4)

The Princess is smitten and regales Yasmini with descriptions of this wonderful lad.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (5)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (5)

Al-Talib (left) observes the scene in the marketplace and along with his henchman Omar (Bud Messinger), schemes to manipulate Aladdin so he can woo the Princess himself.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (6)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (6)

Aladdin retrieves the Magic Lamp in a special cave and, in a predictable act of betrayal, is sealed inside. He discovers the lamp’s magical properties, escapes and requests a prize worthy of a princess to present to the Sultan. There is a moment of ecstatic bliss before al-Talib creates a clever deception to get the lamp for himself. When he does so, he turns Aladdin back into a pauper. No longer able to get access to the palace in his peasant clothing, Aladdin tries to sneak in to warn the Princess what has happened. In the mean time, there is a delightful bath scene where the Princess and Yasmini talk about the couple’s happy future together.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (7)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (7)

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (8)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (8)

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (9)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (9)

Aladdin and the Princess conspire to steal the lamp back and fix everything. They are ultimately successful and we cut to the final scene where there is celebration in the streets and a closeup of the happy couple.

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (10)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (10)

William Fox - Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (11)

William Fox – Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (1917) (11)

One of the interesting conventions of this film was the use of color changes to indicate the venue. Palace scenes were processed in purple, outdoor scenes in a golden sepia and dream/fantasy scenes in cyan. I found a copy of the film on YouTube for anyone who wants to check out this amusing melodrama.

Geisha Girl

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is primarily a movie about a girl.  The film can still be subjected to feminist critique because the patriarchy functions on two axes:  the sexist man-woman and the ageist adult-child.

While Chiyo was not sold for a bride price and younger than she might have anticipated— only nine—she nonetheless leaves her father’s house in the manner of any female, Japanese or otherwise, as part of a financial transaction.  As Gayle Rubin tells us,

“If it is women who are being transacted, then it is the men who give and take them… the woman being a conduit of relationship rather than a partner to it… it is men who are the beneficiaries of the product of such exchanges” (The Traffic in Women).

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (1)

The heavy rain shower when Chiyo and her sister Satsu are sold and leave home may represent water breaking as she is ejected from the womb of the patriarchal household.  Or, it could symbolize a kind of Zen Buddhist ritual purification, as when a renunciate bhikkhuni washes to signify disavowal of family.  Chiyo has “deFOOed” as Stefan Molyneux might put it.  She should be utterly free.  But then, why all the prison bars imagery as Chiyo alights from the petty-cab in front of the okiya? Because the patriarchal family and the capitalist economy form one integrated system.  Liberated from the father, she now reckons with the Man.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (2)

Despite what conservatives fear, prostitution (hanamachi) does not challenge the integrity of the family—it supports the family wherever the family structure fails, by providing security and support to females left out in the cold and intimacy and sex to men of frigid families.

“There are 80,000 prostitutes in London alone and what are they, if not bloody sacrifices on the altar of monogamy?”  (Schopenhauer, On Women)

Heavy rain falls again while Chiyo searches for Satsu.  Chiyo’s running through the drenched streets will shortly precipitate the permanent loss of her sister.   At this point Mother gives Chiyo a package which turns out to contain a letter informing her that her mother and her father have died. Now utterly without family ties, Chiyo might have moved seamlessly from the microcosmic familial unit onto the macrocosmic space of the patriarchal capitalist order.  Instead, however, Mother has had enough of Chiyo’s trouble-making and rather than training her as a geisha, she reduces the girl to slavery to recover financial losses.

Ironically, only as a slave is Chiyo free, both from the family unit and from personal investment in the statist market economy.  She is liberated totally; and so, in the next scene Chiyo sits symbolically on a bridge, as if between these two worlds.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (3)

But who could betray the patriarchy?  Within seconds she is approached across the river by a charming older gentleman, and instantly she is emotionally enmeshed in capitalism and the patriarchy through its most sacred and unquestioned institution—the romantic couple.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (4)

Like any man seducing a little girl, the Chairman first grooms her by buying her ice cream and then slips her some money.  “In that moment I changed from a girl, facing nothing but emptiness, into someone with purpose.”  From Zen-like emptiness and with “nothing to attain” (Heart Sutra), Chiyo is once again made a tool of a man’s world; specifically, she says she desires “a place in his world.”

Six years pass.  Chiyo still pines for and desires the Chairman as strongly at fifteen as she had at nine, but unexpectedly, fortune and the politics of the Pleasure District supply her another chance to train as a maiko—and perhaps an opportunity to become intimate with the Chairman.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (5)

Chiyo must study hard.  Her peer, Pumpkin, and the other aspiring geishas are years ahead of her in the art of sexual seduction, grace and conversation.  “You will not be a true geisha until you can stop a man in his tracks with a single look,” chides Chiyo’s new mother, Mameha.  Chiyo is a natural and is soon declared ready.

“’Today you leave your childhood and cast away your name, from this day forward you will be known as Sayuri.’  I felt little Chiyo disappear behind a white mask with red lips.   I was a maiko now, an apprentice geisha. From that moment I told myself when I make tea, when I pour sake, when I dance, when I tie my kimono… it will be for the chairman, until he finds me… until I am his.”

Geisha, meaning “artist,” are different from the prostitutes called yujo or tayuu from whom they evolved.  Geisha, while seductive, do not sell sex, and so Chiyo—even as she becomes the geisha Sayuri—remains a girl.

“The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman.” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)

Sayuri however will have her virginity auctioned off.  Once again, the symbol of the rain-shower repeats when at the performance preceding the bidding war to ensue, she dances under staged falling rain.  Chiyo/Sayuri’s aqueous blue eyes are another allusion to this water.

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

Rob Marshall – Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) (6)

“Girls… elud[e] the theological order of rationality that fixes identities into being not becoming” (McAvan, The Becoming Girl of the Virgin Mary, Rhizomes, Issues 22,  2011).

The theme repeats in the film: “she told me I was like water,” “I see water in you,” and so on.  Like the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl,” water is always flowing and not easily blocked.  Sayuri rides a “plane of consistency” through every crooked alley of the Pleasure District and dramatic complication.  “[T]he becoming-girl ‘slips through’ orders” (McAvan), and so at last, in the final scene of the film, Chiyo and the Chairman embrace, seeming to reaffirm patriarchy, capitalism, familism and the romantic couple.

“To a man, Geisha can only be half a wife.  We are the wives of nightfall. And yet… a little girl with more courage than she knew, would find that her prayers were answered. Can that not be called happiness?”

Update: Throbbing Gristle Album Art

About this time three years ago I made a post about the album art featured on proto-industrial band Throbbing Gristle’s album D.o.A: The Third and Final Report, where I mentioned a calendar that was included in the first one thousand pressings of the record back in 1979 when it was first released, but I could never find a decent version of the calendar image.  Well, thanks to a tip from one of our readers, I was informed that the girl in image was named Kama Brandyk, and a quick search of the name brought me to not only a large (albeit somewhat frayed) version of the image but also to several pages from Drew Daniel’s band bio Throbbing Gristle’s Twenty Jazz Funk Greats about these images and their context, set within a deeper discussion of the slippery nature of what constitutes child pornography and what doesn’t, though it is quite annoying to try to read linearly because not all of the pages were present (it’s one of those book preview things you come across on the web every so often).  It’s an incredibly interesting read and prompts me to want to read the book in its entirety.  I’m not going to share the entire excerpt here (here’s a link if you want to read it), but there is a paragraph quoted from a band member in a newsletter that I think is worth re-quoting:

The young girl on the cover of D.o.A. is called Kama Brandyk.  She is the daughter of a friend of ours who lives in Poland, with whom Gen stayed when he was there.  Her mother is called Ewa Zajak and co-wrote the “Weeping” lyrics.  Kama, the little girl, was listening to Alice in Wonderland in Russian and it was International Children’s Day when the photo was taken.

I find these kinds of details about the origins of particular art and design pieces to be fascinating.  Anyway, a big thank you to Thomas for providing me with this information.  This is a supreme example of why we at Pigtails love for our readers and fans to come forward with details they may have about particular works.  It can lead to further discoveries that only enrich the blog.  So, thanks again Thomas!

Artist Unknown - Throbbing Gristle Calendar (1978)

Artist Unknown – Throbbing Gristle Calendar (1978)

 

Alien Girls, Animal Spirits & Raisons d’Être: The Art of Lily C

I’ve received my fair share of fan mail for my work here, but something about the first excited email I received from a young lady named Lily C (named changed for her protection and privacy), who I’ve been conversing back and forth with over the last few days, really captured me, in part because it perfectly encapsulated part of Pigtails in Paint‘s raison d’être.  I am going to quote her first two paragraphs in full, because I think she deserves that.  She wrote:

I came across your site while looking for answers or comfort or acceptance. I started with Nabokov so many years ago and went all the way to Caravaggio and Carroll and Ovenden, then to your site. Let me explain. When I was around four years old, I was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family friend, who was twelve or thirteen and had been abused himself (and the cycle probably continued all the way up the line to Adam). When I was nine, it was a neighbor who was around forty, and when I was twelve/thirteen it was a few strangers on a few trains. As you can imagine, these events soiled my sexuality a good deal for it took away my right to explore it of my own accord. Truly, I feel that innocence isn’t lost with virginity, but instead when sex becomes carnal, forced, and fake– an apple made entirely of sugar, rather than the ripe, red fruit it should be. The boy treated me as if he loved me, the older man explicitly told me so, and the strangers on the train touched me blindly, without love. It confused me. I’m not sure if you believe at all in the concept of the nymphet (popularized by Nabokov but surely recognized well before then) but even if you don’t, I do, and I believe I was one.

 

After all that happened to me, I became hyper-sexual, which isn’t uncommon for girls in this circumstance, but I corrupted my sexuality near to the point of extinction because I was endlessly searching for a way to reclaim and re-explore it without the notions that were forced upon me. Then, just a year ago, I met a boy who saw the child and the nymphet in me and he nurtured it and now I’m regaining that small portion that was lost; what I call innocent sexuality. Indeed, I feel like a child and a woman all at the same time and I’ve found a beautiful balance and it feels so good to be this way. However, I am still traumatized, and ever since those events began I have struggled with child love. One of my darkest secrets, but one that I can share because I’m no longer afraid of it (though I am ashamed), is that in my young teenage years I became obsessively fascinated with child pornography. This, of course, stems solely from the personality split that occurred within me from the abuse, and I sought after children because I wanted badly to reconnect with the part of the child within who was lost. I’m still coming to terms with this loss. I disconnected myself from the porn after I had met my love, and indeed everything that dealt with themes of child love were thrown away or pushed out of my head out of fear. I still get pangs of heart-wrenching adoration for certain little girls, and it really confuses me in the moment. This past month I have been searching around the Internet for something that would satiate this need to connect, that wouldn’t be a simple cover-up as the child porn was– and the point of all this, really, is to say that I’ve found it on your blog.

When I founded Pigtails, it was first and foremost a way for me to process my own complex feelings about young girls through the endless manifestations of them embodied in art, and to recognize the nobler ideas behind artistic expression in a way that honored girls holistically without demolishing or changing their girlish nature.  As I’ve said before, Pigtails is itself an art project, and, as good art should, it has since come to represent many things for many people.  So, it meant a great deal to me when Lily explained what Pigtails was for her and how it soothed a need she felt in herself to recapture the feelings of being both innocent and sexually alive at the same time—in other words, to be the girl she would’ve been had her burgeoning sexuality not been corrupted and directed by outside forces.  With a wisdom surpassing her nineteen years, she managed to express what it means succinctly and artfully:

Innocence to me is a wonder and a curiosity free from construct and self-inhibition. Innocence is exploring without boundaries or insecurities (apart from those boundaries that keep one safe).

Notice that nowhere in this definition does she include the concept of utter sexual ignorance, for the truth is, kids are sexual beings.  The issue isn’t that sexual abuse “sexualizes” children, but rather that it swaps their free-form, still developing sexuality out for something artificial, fixed and forced, and therefore (to the child) something much less fun and interesting.  It is not dissimilar from an adult taking a child’s free-flowing imagination and shaping it to by coercing, guilt-tripping or pressuring the child to create only what that particular adult finds beautiful.  When this happens (as it frequently does), children tend to become disillusioned with their own creativity, and consequently, to lose interest in being creative.  For kids, the end product of creative expression is not generally the driving force behind it; it is, rather, the joy of creation itself.

Lily C - Empress (2012)

Lily C – Empress (2012)

Well, all of that applies to child sexuality as well, and therein lies the key to understanding it.  Society as a rule tends to either ignore, devalue or deny the existence of child sexuality altogether.  This is why we have consistently been so wrongheaded about how to deal with children and sex, and consequently, why I believe sexual abuse is still going fairly strong today even with the severe taboos and laws in place.  Society itself has effectively fetishized children’s innocence to the point where they now fail to understand what it really means, or the harm that this impossible standard often causes to children themselves.  With our prevailing concept of the perfectly asexual child, we have erected an image of the child which most real children could never meet, and that failure can bring shame and guilt on them, the very things child abusers often use to control kids and keep them quiet, and which can cause them to be victimized again and again.  On the flip side of that same coin, the innocence fetish has become attractive in itself to some people, and by extension, so does the prospect of violating that innocence, warping or corrupting it.

But I’m not here to talk about that.  I am here to discuss Lily’s art, which she sent me samples of in her second email, and which I immediately fell in love with.  This is real outsider art, folks—like the work of Henry Darger.  It is pure expression, motivated by a true creative instinct that isn’t necessarily aimed at an end goal, much like that of a child.  Lily says of her work,

It is rare for me to take pencil to paper with an idea in mind. Usually I will be fixated on some aesthetic form (e.g. the shape of the fingers, an eye, a nose, a word) at the time of drawing and I start with these things, but rarely does the attention awarded to that specific aesthetic point manifest as the focal point of the work. It’s very spontaneous; it just comes out of my fingers, really, and therefore it comes almost directly from my subconscious. In a way all my pieces are connected to the dream world. When I’m done drawing I look at the page in surprise, usually, at the ideas that have presented themselves to me through such an arbitrary method, much like waking from a dream.

Of particular interest to Ron were the animal/human hybrid pieces.  One is a type of centaur, an equine body topped by a human head. The ornate decorations she has given the centaur, including the hood, are all quite lovely.  The long distortions of the equine form call to mind Salvador Dali’s elephants and the horse from The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  The other hybrid is a lemur’s posterior topped by a human girl’s torso and head.  A strange choice for such a hybrid, and yet it works.  The addition of the wind gives the image a nice buzz of energy.  The lemur girl is busy, maybe storing fruit away for the winter, while the wind blows.  The image suggest autumn, which is, appropriately enough, a season of transition, great activity and preparation for the future, things that most teen girls are well acquainted with.

The meanings behind them are also quite personal for Lily and tie in to the childhood theme that recurs through her work:

The animal/human hybrids are directly sourced from who I am as an individual. I have a very strong connection to the child within myself, and indeed some parts of me are fully a child (if that makes sense). As I’m sure you and many of your readers know, children have the remarkable ability to attune themselves to animal spirits; they are simply closer to the Earth, closer to the essence of existence which can be found in its most complete form in nature. I embody this spirit in my paintings because my creative abilities are intrinsically linked to my childishness.

Lily C - Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C – Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C - Past Lives (2012)

Lily C – Past Lives (2012)

My favorite, piece, meanwhile, is a blue-skinned alien girl.  There exists a striking contrast between the exoticness of the alien and the prosaic nature of her expression, which embodies a common struggle of girls everywhere to forge their own identity and is spoken very much in the urban patois of a modern teen: “Can’t live like I wanna.”  Of course, since it is Lily expressing this sentiment through her art, it means much more than that.  Some might be tempted to ascribe a Postmodern irony here, but to do so I think would be to gravely misunderstand the artist.  Indeed, Lily herself has confessed that she doesn’t fully understand what is going on in this work and finds it troubling at times.

The words come from a song called ‘I Ate Your Soul’ by Grieves. This painting is from one of the hardest points in my life. I drew it when I was fifteen and kept it for a little while without color or words. At that point she was just the girl, and she was in a much more vulnerable position with her legs spread open and a pained expression on her face. I redrew it multiple times over the next two years, but it never seemed right to me. Usually I feel a sense of relief when a sketch or a drawing is finished, but not with her. When I was eighteen and in university I listened to a lot of hip-hop and I was fixated on the aforementioned track, listening to only this song over and over. I was in my dorm room one night listening to the song and very distressed because I hadn’t drawn anything for a long, long time. I had her in front of me and I looked at her and felt extremely disgusted by her, so I traced her yet again and scribbled those lyrics which had been stuck in my head, and she seemed more complete. She ignited my creativity in that sense again so I’m grateful for her, but she still scares me.

Lily C - Untitled (2011)

Lily C – Untitled (2011)

Her girls can also take on the semblance of clowns, with odd splotches of color over eyes, chin and cheeks.  Or bearing a jester’s cap and a protruding tongue.  But in short order one realizes that these are not cheerful characters.  They’re naked, for one thing, and it isn’t the carefree nakedness we usually see with children.  It is awkward, uncertain, defensive.  One girl, her body contorted impossibly and furtively away from the viewer, looks to be masturbating, a coil of poisonous green smoke wafting from the cigarette in her other hand.  The girl in the jester’s cap feels rather more devilish than comedic here, with her protruding tongue, her sharp claws and a piece of intestine snaking out of a slit in her belly.

The darker aspects of Lily’s art can of course be interpreted as a manifestation of her sexual abuse.  Lily herself frames it this way:

I use my art to explore all components of my existence, including my sexuality. My intense focus on sexuality in art started when I was around six years old and would draw crude genitalia on figures then quickly scribble them out for modesty. I don’t know if this interest stemmed from abuse or innate curiosity. My abuse started when I was as young as two (however, I only remember specific instances from when I was five), but I don’t remember everything because that is past the point where my memory can recall such trauma. A lot of what happened to me is not accessible, it lingers in my subconscious, so naturally it would eventually come out through my art; the only access point. The abuse affected me in a most confusing way so that I didn’t know what sexuality was or how it fit into my life or myself, and I began to explore it with nude figures of my own age and older engaging in sexual acts, and this began when I was twelve. As my work progressed the figures became younger and younger, and less sexually involved, until I was drawing fetuses in the womb! Through this, I was able to explore sexuality in the context of age. I found that the young girls I drew had a profound sexual energy that could not be expressed, that was actually on the very verge of being expressed but they did not know exactly how to do it because of their age or some other block. The babies had a sexual energy, but did not express it except through simply being (as all things do– even rocks have a minuscule amount of sexual energy which they exude only by existing in the world). The fetuses were fetuses and I could not really identify them. I remember one drawing in particular, made when I was fifteen. There was a fetus in a disembodied amniotic sac, about 50 days old, and a female off to the left side of the drawing who looked to be about eleven years old by her body proportions, screaming. At the top of the page was a cluster of female heads with hollow eyes, connected by their hair. On the next page was a female with a goat head, fourteen years old, bound in barbed wire and some poetry about serpents off to the right. Strange stuff. The connection between my childhood and my art is formed in many locations within me. It is formed through the subconscious by trauma, it’s formed by the inherently strong link to my imagination forged in childhood, and it’s formed by my innate tendency to express myself creatively on paper which I have been doing since before I can remember. But there’s a lot of weird stuff going on that I haven’t quite figured out yet, so I don’t doubt that some connections haven’t yet been discovered.

Lily C - Shelby (2010)

Lily C – Shelby (2010)

Lily C - Hunter (2010)

Lily C – Hunter (2010)

Lily’s images often swirl with text, some of it inexplicable but clearly channeled from her subconscious.  In Alien Boss, the text is as much the focus of the work as the imagery is.  In fact, text and imagery are so intertwined that they are nearly inseparable.  The words slither and writhe on the page, getting jumbled up so that one might read them in a variety of ways.  Before I was provided with the title of this work, I interpreted one line in the piece to read, “Boss, the alien is coming”—Lily rather intended it to read, “The alien boss is coming.”  Either one might be appropriate in the context, to say nothing of the possible double entendre in the word “coming,” given what is occurring on the page.

Lily C - Alien Boss (2010)

Lily C – Alien Boss (2010)

In another, green-hued girls and mechanical birds prance around while a disembodied infantile mouth commands the viewer to “Fuck ME.”  Confrontational?  Perhaps.  Necessary?  Quite.

Lily C - Untitled (2010)

Lily C – Untitled (2010)

But it’s not been all doom and gloom for Lily.  I will leave you with a hopeful note from Lily herself:

Apart from the abuse my childhood was a happy one. I spent most of my time alone, climbing trees and catching insects, building worm piles and playing with cars. I was happiest among the trees and the grass and the dirt, thinking about things. I felt powerful when I fell from a tall branch and scraped my arms up badly and did not cry. Also when I ate with the wasps, and let spiders crawl across my hands, and when I got so dirty I turned the bathtub black. When I was a little girl I didn’t restrain myself from anything, I did whatever I wanted without fear and I had a very strong moral code; I didn’t hurt anything or anyone, I helped wherever I was needed. This is a point I would like to reach again, and I’m not far away. If I could embody the spirit of myself as a little girl, this would be the utmost point of my spirituality and creativity.

Lily C - Warrior (2012)

Lily C – Warrior (2012)