the burning woman

Everything in this world starts and ends in a blizzard.

FMP: Risk Assessment

After a long series of decisions, some based on personal changing interests, others on logic and practical factors, I’ve moved the direction of my project.

Initially, I went for world-building in the sense of literally trying to construct an entire world and basic setting for a story – characters, landmarks, geography, language and slang, society, folklore, religion, races, conflicts, politics, settlements, food, etc, etc, etc. While a very nice idea initially, one that gave me a lot of freedom, I have since come to the conclusion that it’s not an entirely realistic goal to research, develop and achieve within eight weeks, given the amount of material I have ideas for is literally endless.

That being said, I can’t abandon the wealth of ideas I have already researched and made work for – so instead of making the world-building aspect an all-encompassing deal, I’ve decided to focus on character design. I made a series of character concepts for a main cast, and since I felt that was a strong area I could build on, I’ve moved the end goal for a finished product into costuming. This may or may not have been a decision influenced by a mass of sculpture material and fabric I recently acquired.

Given the subject matter/source inspirations are the Pendle witches, medieval religious conflict and ancient Slavic paganism, symbols and processes to be used in this project can and will be somewhat raw and not necessarily palatable to the general public. In other words, bones, blood, hair, nails, skin, fur, feathers, teeth, etc.

Authenticity is and always has been important to me, but especially here – I have never believed fiction is superficial, and this project, while not intended an accurate or realistic depiction, draws on various historic and spiritual practices, some which are personally very meaningful to me. Ultimately I want the costume I make to be a genuine, important work of art that could be used as a spiritual aid, not just as a fancy dress. Witches, women, and nature have always been intrinsically tied – while the overall project does not focus on it, the final product I am working towards will incorporate a lot of themes towards life, death and corporeality. This is partially to address my own issues towards my body, physicality, presence and decay, and partially as a method to honor and tie the spirits of the dead back to ours; a reference back to the cosmic soup, universal life-energy or oneness, depending on which spiritual window you look through.

Which brings us to the risk assessment.

Materials or visuals I plan to use that could cause harm or offence

  • Animal bones, feathers, and taxidermy feet (10 crow, 1 rabbit)
  • Human blood, teeth, hair, and nails (all my own)
  • Items and symbols of the Christian religion (holy water, crucifix, rosary)
  • Handmade tools or accessories that could be used as weapons (sharpened sticks, small blades, hammers, pestle and mortar)
  • Hazardous substances (candles/fire, tobacco/smoke, wine, dyes, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, needles/pins, biological washing powder, poisonous or harmful plants)

How I have addressed and minimized risks – morals, beliefs and ethics

  • I will ensure warnings for blood, bones, etc are present before any viewing of my work or processes, along with a disclaimer that all materials were ethically and lawfully sourced.
  • I have gone to lengths to ensure all animal remains I include in my work are either natural finds or by-products of the meat industry, meaning none were obtained specifically for any purpose – bones were found in the countryside or extracted from food products, taxidermy curio were obtained in accordance with UK law and ethical guidelines, and no animals were harmed for purpose of use in this project.
  • Any human body parts used are mine, and were given with my full consent. I went through no emotional distress to obtain these parts, and most were not removed for purpose of the project. I was not under influence of any drug, stimulant, alcohol or mental illness when obtaining these materials.
  • I believe I have a claim to all religious or ethnic items or symbols used, due to my Catholic upbringing and baptism, and partially Slavic ethnic background.
  • Nothing in the project is intended as a mockery, disrespect or desecration of the women who were killed unjustly in the Pendle witch trials, the animals whose remains are being used, or the victims of the genocides the Catholic church committed against the Polish pagans during the mass conversion. I will do my best to treat all sensitive topics addressed in my project with respect and dignity.
  • All materials were obtained within UK law.

How I have addressed and minimized risks – physical safety 

  • I have done extensive research into taxidermists, collectors, crafts and various other guides, official and experience-based, on how to clean, treat and sanitize animal bones or plant remains.
  • All taxidermy items (feathers, dried feet) have been chemically treated before purchase and were guaranteed clean and safe by sellers.
  • All bones were dry and odorless when I got them – however to be safe I have since soaked and treated all with warm water, biological washing powders and hydrogen peroxide solutions, following a period of drying and manual rinsing/scrubbing/brushing to ensure all were clean.
  • Branches and twigs were immersed in bleach and biological washing powder solutions for a long period of time before being rinsed and dried. The bleach and enzymes would have been absorbed into the wood along with the water, killing any parasites inside. Dirt was cleaned off during this process.
  • Any human body parts – my blood, hair, nails and teeth – were put in airtight small corked glass bottles, and permanently sealed with superglue and wax for extra protection. My blood was obtained with a sterilized edge, the teeth via surgery, and I have no known infections or diseases in my either. When not in use the vials are kept in a box or drawer so that the glass cannot be accidentally smashed.
  • All potential sharp edges or points are not generally accessible and would not accidentally harm anyone other than myself.
  • Safety precautions are taken before I handle any hazardous substances – gloves before any handling of chemicals, plants or untreated animal remains, along with frequent washing of hands, and flames being used only when supervised and for minimal times.

 

 

 

Veles ( Research/concept/final design)

In my previous post I said I was scrapping the initial focus of my FMP (that being Rodnovery) due to the rampant unapologetic Nazism issues I had with modern Rodnover communities. Despite that, I still firmly hold the belief that this religion in its roots was not a bigoted one, and so I kept aspects of what I originally planned. My favored deity of the native Slavic pantheon was Veles, and so naturally I started practicing concept work on him.

My research was mostly online, due to the fact that you can’t really find much on ancient Slavic faith in the average library; scouring various blogs, forums and so on on Slavic paganism, combined with what little knowledge I already had. Veles is the god of the underworld and Perun’s enemy, but he is not considered an evil god; the battle between him and Veles is less one of good and evil and more one of opposing forces of nature; both necessary. His aspects seemed to mostly focus around ‘dark’, and ‘woolly’ or ‘hairy’; as he is often depicted as a snake or dragon, I found it odd that he was associated with more mammalian traits. I did some practice, getting familiar with various animalistic forms; snakes, deer, goats, and various types of horns, as well as tusked, deformed giants based off the giants featured in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I’m a little bored of every design of Veles looking more or less exactly the same – a large, old, white, generic man with a long beard and round horns. So I’d already decided to scrap the humanoid designs early on; I was torn between the goat and the serpent. By this point I wasn’t only looking directly at Rodnovery; I also considered Shub-Niggurath of Lovecraftian mythos, or The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, as well as common depictions of the Christian devil as a black ram or goat. Another one to consider was the Forest Spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, which, while seriously unnerved me the first time I saw it, drew several comparisons to Veles in my mind. Miyazaki’s Forest Spirit was neither a goat nor a snake, but something resembling a deer – its most striking aspects being its large size and many horns (antlers?). At the same time, I had also been toying with the idea of tree branches as antlers, flowering and wilting with the passing of the seasons; it’s a concept I’ve been fond of since I was young, a hybrid or unity of flora and fauna, and seemed right at home with the concept of a forest God. While antlers aren’t technically horns, I decided it was close enough, because I really, really wanted to use that idea.

But despite all that, he’s still primarily represented as a snake, not a mammal – here I had also started looking into Rodnover cosmology, and the idea of the world being represented as a tree (with Perun as a falcon in the branches (heaven) and Veles as a serpent on the roots (underworld)). That sounded familiar to me when I read about it, and sure enough it was because I’d read a book on Norse mythology way, way back when I was a kid. Some embarrassingly obtuse Google searches later, I found out that concept in Norse mythology was called Yggdrasil (I’m so glad I don’t have to say that out loud); a mythical tree that connected the various realms. Norse mythology wasn’t my focus here so I stayed right away from delving into that, but I did remember that there was a serpentine creature in Norse legend encircling the world tree (Yggdrasil). More research and I found out that was Níðhöggr (again, I’m so glad) and it was a dragon eating at the roots of the tree, representing destruction and punishment. Then there was Ouroboros; another serpentine mythical creature.

I figured that because of how strongly Veles seems to be tied to the ‘hairy/woolly’ concept, I couldn’t cut that out – but I’d already decided he had to be a dragon of some sort. So there you have the world’s first hairy snake. With legs. I’m running out of time I’ll edit this later

“I Hate Nazis And Everything They’re Associated With, But I Don’t Want To Waste 7 Sketchbook Pages Of Development”, or “Dang, Now I Have To Write Another Proposal”

VISUAL DEVELOPMENT OF RODNOVERY OR THE SLAVIC PANTHEON

On this course I have learned how to visually develop a project, creating a large body of work in a short amount of time – and how not every piece needs to be perfect, clean, or detailed, as long as it gets an idea across. This, I believe, will help me create a strong sketchbook that leads to more fleshed out final works.

My own religious pursuits and beliefs have led me to migrate between religions, both established and unestablished, until I found out about Slavic paganism or old religion – also known as Rodnovery – through chance. During this course, though, the main source of inspiration for this project was “Invisible Cities” – making characters, designing a fantasy city and building my own fictional world and society was a hugely enriching and fulfilling experience for me. Lastly, the mythical and muted works of illustrator John Bauer, based on Swedish folklore and fairy tales, are part of what drew me to create of body of work reflecting my take on Polish mythos.

I intend to aim my final project at producing conceptual works based on myths and legends, or ‘established fiction’ – in this case the mostly-lost, pre-Christian Slavic mythology, paganism or folklore known as Rodnovery. This is partially as a process of my own religious journey, and otherwise, exploration of my cultural identity – but beyond limiting myself to what little established lore there is, I plan on building up this folklore, fleshing it out with my own interpretations of texts, visuals and otherwise entirely original ideas. All religion and spirituality ultimately stemmed from human word, and to me, belief has always been personal – I do not let others dictate my beliefs, or tell me God will not accept me for my identity. This will be spiritual exploration, but creative in equal measure.

I will build up a body of visual development for my ideas, through sketchbooks and otherwise loose works, as well as singled-off/larger pieces. These will explore the pantheon, stories, festivals, and other fantasy imagery with a less historically accurate basis. I plan on exploring many mediums, though digital will likely be a favoured method, especially for development.

Due to the extremely broad and rich amount of material I will need to cover due to the nature of the pantheon, I will have to organise work, themes and titles carefully – my ideal final outcome is a tarot deck based off the work I produce here, so I will have to be able to clearly categorise what I create. I will not require any materials that I don’t already have, although if my final piece is to be a tarot deck – ideally one I can reproduce and sell – I will need quality, affordable printing resources, and potentially access to a laser cutter. Luckily due to connections with my previous school’s art department, I will hopefully be able to attain these.

Due to Rodnovery mostly being folklore passed down orally, and hardly any evidence of it existing anywhere other than very isolated villages and niche blogs, my primary research may be weak; however, I may able to speak to my living native Polish relatives about folklore and fairy tales tied to their culture, along with my own memories and experiences during my childhood visits to Poland. Most of my second-hand research will likely be drawn from blogs and Slavic culture hubs on the internet, as the religion is sparsely documented anywhere else, or in ‘official’ records, due to its ancient nature and the Christian rewriting of Poland’s history.

To evaluate and record my progress, I have created both a WordPress and a Tumblr blog – I will record processes, evaluations of what I’ve made, and photos of works in progress. Alongside this to visually record my development will be my sketchbook, which I aim to fill completely, or at least bring close to completion over the course of the project.

At the initial briefing for this assignment I originally planned to base my self-directed project around world-building, developing and visualizing a long-standing fictional ‘world’, in terms of society, geography, history, culture(s), etc. I had already wanted to incorporate elements of Polish folklore into this world, but after seeing an illustration by Patrycja Podkościelny depicting some icons of Slavic folklore, however, I was inspired to change the direction of my project as a chance to learn more about my ethnic roots.

The early stages of research into modern Rodnovery practice somewhat soured my enthusiasm for this proposal.

As I was aware, many symbols originally featured in Rodnovery or Slavic native faith (swastika, kolovrat, rece boga) were appropriated at discovery by the Nazis, who were occupying Poland at the time. While I was interested in the concepts and aesthetics of the religion, as I was with Christianity, the community has disappointed me greatly.

It turns out that a large number of modern Rodnovers are neo-Nazis, despite the fact that they are Slavic (a concept I completely fail to understand, given the Nazi regime and Hitler viewed Slavs as sub-human, non-Aryan, and only suitable for slavery or extermination). Further warped in the political state of the religion is that where not associated with literal Nazism, it is still heavily linked with white supremacy, or Polish nationalism. There is a common idea around these neo-pagan communities that the religion is ethnically white, and belongs to white people – despite, for example, historical depictions of Mokosh, one of the Slavic pantheon, with dark skin.

Given world events, the rise of neo-Nazism, and the current political climate – in Poland and worldwide – I don’t feel comfortable depicting the religion in detail any longer. As a gay, mixed race, gender-neutral/confused individual, I have never been one for organised religion in general, but I assumed as a very sparsely-followed pagan nature faith, Rodnovery would not be so prejudiced as major religions. In retrospect, I don’t really know why I expected that, given how intensely racist Poland is, even if unconsciously.

I love the culture I grew up with, and always will, but after a few days intensely researching the practice of this faith and how modern Slavs are carrying this forgotten culture, not to mention the horrendous, right-wing, oppressive Polish government at present, I felt ashamed of being Polish – I wanted to dissociate myself from it. In all likelihood, it wouldn’t have been such a change – I always felt like a stranger in Poland. Admittedly, I lived in an utterly obscure, narrow-minded little town in the middle of nowhere, a three to four-hour drive deep from Krakow airport. There was ‘white power’ spray-painted on my grandparent’s flat block, and swastikas spray-painted on buildings throughout the town. It was in Poland that I initially realised I wasn’t white – coming from London, being white-passing, I’d always assumed I was. But in Poland people stared – when I finally asked my white, Polish mother why, she explained it was because I looked ‘exotic’. I love my grandmother, but I didn’t love being called China-girl, geisha, or chopsticks every time I visited – however affectionately it might have been said.

Despite all that, though, I still have faith and allegiance to the deities Veles and Mata Ziemia, and a love for other aspects of the folklore and religion (provided it’s completely isolated from modern mainstream practice of it).

As a result, I’m going to compromise, combining both ideas for my FMP. I will visualize a fantasy world, but I will draw elements of Slavic folklore to inspire and flesh it out.

“God, I Can’t Do This Shit Anymore”

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Newest traditional work! Referenced off a photo of a good friend of mine, Charlotte. Will take better photos soon.

Mixed media – primarily oil paint, and then (because oils are damn expensive) pencil, tippex, old makeup (foundation, green concealer, nail polish, eyeshadows/powders), face paint, water, kid’s crayons, gel pens, and thread+needle. It’s titled “God, I can’t do this shit anymore”. It was an unfinished painting gathering dust at my parent’s house, but became a personal piece when I finished it up over the past couple days. Kind of felt like a final goodbye to my tumultuous hellish adolescence.

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