In my one woman show, Iowa Sutra, I experimented with a number of mediums and genres; visually I utilized all original collage, video, photography The really interesting and edgy undertaking though was working with a variety of writing genres (memoir, cultural analysis, poetry, research/journalism, storytelling, and historical revisioning) and blending/integrating the text within an innovative and creative delivery system. I came to call this original form Collage Inventives.
I am an artist activist, in that I am passionate about the subjects I pursue, and that pursue me- I go after what I am concerned about, as well as what gives me joy. In Iowa Sutra I became obsessed with finding out all I could about the history of gynecology and then began to link this with my own experiences as a woman who had (of course) been trained to undergo the stirrups. This led me into deep research into the cancer industry and its tentacles into women’s lives, and how our ideas and relationship to our bodies are shaped inside of patriarchy.
Then I began to trace this feeling that there was more that had to be explored. This opened me up to memories of my sacred/profane journey through 12 years of Catholic School when I became consumed at an early age by images of women saints and their stories. This led me into research about women healers and intellectuals (Hypatia most specifically) who were often killed (because they were women first and foremost) for their intellectual and mystical powers. During this time I was swamped in my research, memoir writing, collage making, installation photography, etc. What emerged was a 3 hour prototype of a working model for how I work as an intermedia story artist, called Collage Inventives. In the ensuing years, I have continued my research, writing, and visual art making, with a new project/collage inventive in the works; 9 Uncanny Women Who Live in Your Neighborhood
Here are excerpts/visuals from my original Iowa Sutra performance.
“Dr. Luby’s head is hung low beneath the sheet. He is humming and whistling a show tune. Next to him is a small metal stand with shiny sharp instruments. I am filled with a varietal blend of hilarity, curiosity, and terror. I sense that it is not clinical protocol for patient (woman) to ask questions (what you gonna do with that long handled poker with the razor at the end?) but to obediently, simply do as I’m told. Lie prone, relaxed, and trust the hand.”
“I, trained to be the proper pleasing perfectly pushed down white girl play my part with precise submission. My perky pelvis submits to its role in the performance, not displaying any sign of rebellion. It’s as if I’ve had special training in the fine art of submission. Gracefully absorbing the humiliation.”
“When the song, Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley was playing, Dr. Luby was squeezing my ovaries. As a I let out a controlled squeal upon realizing the wicked irony of the moment, Bob reminded me that giggling, coughing, or shaking during this part of the performance was not advised.”
“Dr. Luby says he will visit with me in his office, and while still in stirrups, gives me directions. As I twist myself out of the hygienic papers on the exam table, like a trussed turkey breaking free, I am overwhelmed with panic. He has found cancer. My entire body, he is going to tell me, is filled with cancer. Why else would he ask to see me in his office? Why else would he say it like that, “I want to visit with you.”
” I think it was when doctor was instructing me on self-breast exams that I realized I was sitting in his black leather executive chair and he was sitting across from me in the small, humble patient’s chair. Dr. Luby looked so big in that little armless chair and I felt so small sitting in that prodigious leather swivel chair, my feet not able to touch the floor. He was kind. He never pointed it out to me. Never asked to have his chair back. He said “everything looks good.” No lumps, tumors, or strange smelling stuff I asked. Everything looks good, he reassured me.”
“In 1945, J. Marion Sims conducted surgical experiments on slave women in his backyard hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. Sim’s first experiments were done on a black woman whom Sims had purchased from a slave owner. Sims writes, ‘Introducing the bent handle spoon into her dark cavity I saw everything as no man had ever seen before.’ The historic moment has since achieved mythological status as the first use of a vaginal speculum in North America. Sims is remembered as the Father of American Gynecology, the architect of the vagina.”
“I had never thought about looking….holding the mirror up to myself. It was in Colorado where I first learned to explore myself.
Brought the gaze inside.
Opened up the hips.
Sat quietly on ancient rocks to hear the voice of the body.
Met a medicine woman who gave me potions made from the flowers and plants of Indian Paintbrush, Osha, Golden Yarrow, Morning Glory, Dandelion, Saguaro, Angelica, Black Cohosh, Larkspur.
Slept in the Sangre de Christo mountains and met the bear
Hiked to Turquoise Lake and met the eagle
Lifted the veil of separation with the sacred mushroom
Let go of fear in an aspen grove
Surrendered to all that was seen and unseen in the Maitri rooms.
Remembered the original performance, where there is no humiliation, where there is no doctor, where there is no speculum.
Where healing happens in a song, a chant, a dance
Turning the gaze inward where the Eris and Kali and Pallas dwell
Beauty emerges out of darkness.
We are already healed.