FMP: Risk Assessment

by chung swiatkowska

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.