SELF DIRECTED BRIEF
This 3 week project is based on the subject of the Empress Messalina.
In 43 A.D Emperor Claudius was leading Roman legions into Britain. Rome was left to Messalina and she turned the city into her private boudoir.
The work should be idea-based and the final form should be relevant to the subject.
The emphasis on this project is as much on the research and analysis as it is on the final artwork.
The final artwork should be thoroughly researched and developed within the confines of a 3 week timescale.
From “the Nympho and Other Maniacs” by Irvine Wallace
“With a veil draped over her head, she entered taverns and alleys, searching for men.
On one such excursion, filled with wine, she danced naked on a wooden platform in the Forum. Another time, she redecorated a bedroom of the palace to resemble a brothel, hung the name of Rome’s most renowned prostitute on the door, then disrobed, gilded the nipples of her tiny breasts, and invited the male public to enter and be entertained at no more than the legally regulated fee. Emboldened by the heavy traffic, she challenged a particularly noted prostitute of Rome to a contest, insisting that she could entertain more men in 24 hours than her rival. Pliny the Elder tells us that she “surpassed” her rival, “for within the space of 24 hours she cohabited 25 times.”
In his Sixth Satire, Juvenal enlarged upon Messalina’s brothel victory: There she received all comers, Getting top price until the doors shut tight. The lust, though, still raged hotly in her bosom. Dirt-stained, she left the house and journeyed home Exhausted, but undaunted by the sweat. Thus smeared with lampsoot, she returned unfazed to settle odors in the royal pillows.”
My choice of subject “Messalina” was because I had read an article in the Times and it mentioned her briefly, I noted down the name but knew nothing more about her.
I had no idea my final piece would be embroidered, initially I had decided on making a sculpture using the outline and shape of my leg.
Having seen the Illuminations DVD, although I didnt like him, I was inspired by Howard Hodgkin and his placing of modern art next to classical art. I wrote in my sketch book “the past is the only home we’ve got” unfortunately I don’t know who said it but it is really relevant.
I dont want to seem like an Emin freak but it made me think of her embroideries, old style blanket stitches incorporating modern words.
When I read the quote from Irvine Wallace and researched more on Messalina, her femaninity and dissatisfaction became the things I wanted to focus on. She was rumored as having slept with 25 men in 24 hours and was still frustrated. I decided to give myself some stringent rules, rather than sleep with 25 men in 24 hours I decided it would be just as frustrating to sketch in the moment, complete each drawing within one sitting and there was to be no reworking – EVERY mark made would be incorporated in the design through the permanence of embroidery – a traditionally female pursuit.
I bought a 2 metre sheet of white felt to sketch on. I wanted to create a large piece, but chose to cut the felt into 12 pieces, and work one at a time incase the timescale wasn’t feasible. The Romans used to whiten their togas using chalk – as my fabric was already white, charcoal was the logical choice as the texture is very similar. I also wanted to use something that would leave a dark but perishable mark.
I sketched directly onto the felt for a couple of the drawings but could not do all the drawings in one sitting as I had planned due to problems with Life Drawing classes, as I was taking a Life Drawing class at Leith School of Art on a Thursday night I used the sketches I’d done there.
Although I was pleased with the embriodery loads of questions came up so I went back to research the Romans during the time of Claudius further.
Professional metal thread work was done by men using a frame, metallic folk embroidery was done by women who stitched without a frame resulting in a more textured fabric. This led me to dropping the idea of having a wooden frame made to stretch the felt when I was presenting it.
In Roman times clothing had to be simple, there was only one type of fabric readily available and that was wool (although to some extent linen was available) and white was the colour prescribed by law (me and my Roman laws!)
Men wore a toga, women wore a stola, a large draped blanket, pieces of wood were used to make it drape more gracefully.
The stitch I used was a running stitch, (originating from Japan) called a Shashiko, a small stitch on one or more layers of fabric horizonal, vertical or diagonal. Important traditional craft chosen for its grace and beauty.
Black thread was used for mouring – that was one of the reasons I chose it for the abandoned and vulnerable poses of the female and also for the male figures in the embroidery.
Silver stiches were used for military or political use – Messalina tried to rule Rome in the absence of Claudius however the poses I stitched with silver were the most distressing/ dissatisfied poses. Also, the final piece I made was the largest embroidery, the dancing figure in silver – frantic and wild like the name she chose to be known as when posing as a prostitute – the Wolf Girl.
The age of “consent”, if you can call it that was 12 years old in Rome. Although it was considered shocking to sleep around as much as Messalina mass gang bangs have featured throughout history, most notably the one starring Annabel Chong – a porn star who modelled herself on Messalina,
The following is directly from the internet: Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (1999) is a documentary, directed and produced by Gough Lewis, and edited and filmed by co-creator Kelly Morris, which profiles porn star Annabel Chong (real name: Grace Quek). Quek, a sexology student at the University of Southern California, was also an adult actress famous for setting a world record by having sex 251 times with 70 men in ten hours in January 1995. A video of this event was released under the title The World’s Biggest Gang Bang.
The documentary explores all the worlds that have touched Quek, presenting the pieces of including her life as a student in Los Angeles California and London, her native Singapore and in the porn industry. It focuses on her reasons for working in porn, and her relationship with friends and family.
Both women had tried to take on the role of men and both women were dissatisfied by the result. Only one piece of my embroidery is dedicated to Chung – since I read the following.
“Her knees are drawn up to her chest and her arms are
wrapped around them – she has no expression on her face – no expression at all.”