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Saturday, 24 April 2021

Reflective Writing about Xochipilli, a new contemporary tapestry


Xochipilli 97cm  x 147cm

This piece is called ‘Xochipilli’ Based on the god of art, games, dance, flowers, & song in Aztec mythology. His name contains the Nahuatl words xōchitl ("flower") and pilli (either "prince" or "child") and hence means "flower prince". 🌷 

I found this depiction of Xochipilli as a statue figure. What drew me to the image is the different wildflowers and mushrooms that are incorporated into the figure to reflect different mind-altering affects that they have. 

This is a God which embraces a change in perspective but also represents a figure who is sexual, curious, and free. I felt this @gatosheko_ embodied these traits and allowed me to explore themes of spirituality, the heritage of myths and legends within this piece.

Xochipilli represents aspects of history and spirituality more than the previous two pieces. Both Pilgram and Hardcore Vibes include historic images and symbols with the piece, thematically they have a different focus. The piece hopefully connects history and spirituality to the rest of the work.

Whilst I have been working on this piece, I have been trying to lay out my thoughts about what this piece is about. This is difficult because I am attempting to articulate something which not a single idea, but an amalgamation of thoughts coming together by linking visual clues together to exploring the notion of identity.

 

@gatosheko_ on Instagram, presents himself in a carefree and optimistic personality. This body is his canvas, he has a range of tattoos over his body which appears to tell an open story. I like how each person who has gone for body and facial tattoos is expressing a part of themselves, their values, and interests.

His tattoos contain a lot of cats; a tiger's head on his chest; to me, he is expressing his vitality, strength, and passion. A leopard on his ribcage with bamboo as well as well as a two cat heads, one on his arm the other his leg. There is an element of protectiveness that these tattoos emulate. Protecting his heart and adding a layer of camouflage. I also think these creatures have been chosen to reflect a wild and powerful energy, someone who cannot be control. 

A free spirit.  

Wild cats have a long history of symbolism and have been used as a method of expressing qualities of identity. For example, within Chinese Horoscope the year of the Tiger is associated with someone who is 

'impulsive, and unpredictable, generous and affectionate. The Tiger is a Yang sign, Tigers take risks, but are usually lucky.' The tiger as an eastern symbol has often been depicted as a symbol of courage and strength.

Cats have had several associations throughout the world. For example, the jaguar is another popular figure. In Aztec mythology Tezcatlipoca is a supreme deity who can be a Jaguar incarnation. The Jaguar was also considered a guardian and protector, ‘Lord of the Night’ which were often depicted in Aztec pottery. Additionally, in Ancient Egypt the cat was a form of the goddess Bastet.

The use of an animal print has been used to demonstrate a frisky, 'wild' personality type. A dominating and powerful personality, especially if the person is wearing the skin or remains of a predatory. There are records in history of people hunting wild cats and triumphantly posing with the corpse of the animal to assert their dominance.

Adorning the remains of a powerful animal can also demonstrate how the wearer has become the apex predator. These types of associations continue to be used in our society presently with celebrities and powerful figures aligning themselves with wild cats through tattoos and fashion accessories. Often they are aligning themselves as a symbol of someone who is both sexual and powerful, daring, even dangerous.

These prints and symbols can be stimulating in different ways for a viewer. Fear, intimidation, and arousal can be an intoxicating combination. This is described in greater detail within this article by Fashion is psychology.

https://fashionispsychology.com/fear-and-arousal-the-psychology-behind-animal-prints/

The article highlights how an animal print can activate subconscious and instinctual responses in the brain which are linked to fear and arousal. The article also explains the concept of ‘misattribution of arousal’. In 1974, psychologists Art Aron and Donald Dutton were able to evidence that can experience emotional states without knowing why, even if you believe you can pinpoint the source.

https://fashionispsychology.com/fear-and-arousal-the-psychology-behind-animal-prints/

‘Aron and Dutton showed when you feel aroused, you naturally look for context, an explanation as to why you feel so alive. This search for meaning happens automatically and unconsciously, and whatever answer you come up with is rarely questioned because you don’t realize you are asking.’

I am interested in how tattoos repeatedly champion and celebrate the use of these larger predatory creatures. It is interesting to me that these symbols keep reoccurring throughout history as a lasting relationship between humans and nature. The associations are instinctive and direct.

Within my piece I wanted to build a connection It interests me that he has various wild cat tattoos over the model’s body. It is interesting that deities ridding wild cats is repeated across the world.

For example, Durga is a deity has a significant following all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Her legend centres around combating evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity, and Dharma the power of good over evil. Durga is also a fierce form of the protective mother goddess, who unleashes her divine wrath against the wicked for the liberation of the oppressed, and entails destruction to empower creation.

Artist: Kawanabe Kyosai Japanese Title: Junikagetsu no uchi: Gogatsu.

In this example from an eighteenth century print a Japanese is the portrayal of Shoki, the demon quelled. With his sword drawn and a fierce expression matched by the tiger who carries him and assists in the attack, Shoki banishes a band of unlucky demons.

I also found this image which illustrated this relationship between wild cats and humanity from a Greek Legend. Animals are synonymous with Dionysus, but the leopard is regularly repeated. Many believed that he rode on the back of a leopard. 

Priest's of Dionysus wore the skins of
leopards in rituals of awakening spiritual forces and desires. He was the Greek god of wine, winemaking, grape cultivation, fertility, ritual madness, theatre, and religious ecstasy.

When I first came across @gatosheko_ I thought-‘This guy is like a modern day Dionysus.’ Because he was living a full life and enjoys recreational mind-altering drugs. He openly uses them and will share images and stories involving him consuming drugs. He also had these tattoos of a tiger and leopard and has this humour and playfulness about his character which is endearing.

As he is South American, I wanted to identify a legendary figure which was like the European god Dionysus and find a deity which was more locally relevant to him. That is how I found Xochipilli.

Similar in how they both have associations with fertility and madness. I liked that Xochipilli has also been interpreted as the patron of both homosexuals and male prostitutes. It also interests me further that Dionysus has often related to Bisexuality and gender queer associations as well. Why is it that these more liberal and excessively indulgent Deity’s are more sexually free in their associations as well? They were celebrated by large populations of people as gods. This fascinates me as examples of positive representations of queer idols in history which were at different sides of the globe.

@gatosheko_ has a sexual presence within his Instagram profile and pictures. He is often posed topless displaying his tattoos, revealing his athletic figure and the tattoos on his legs. He often wears bright clothing or underwear. Making him appear bold and expressive. Sometimes he takes pictures of himself bathing which amplify the sexual tone in the images as well as making the ink on his tattoos more defined.

I decided to include a depiction of Dionysus with the Leopards in the final piece. Above the main figure’s should is the image of Dionysus and the Leopard and then below in the bottom left corner is a depiction of Xochipilli referencing an Aztec statue figure of him. 

I thought there was an interesting relationship between Greek Mythology somewhere 700-480 B.C Aztec mythology which was established sometime between 1300 to 1521. I wanted to link associations between these two figures as examples of Gods with similar themes.

I wanted to create this contemporary figure who has these layered references that highlight human behaviour has similarities through history. I want the image to demonstrate how humans repeatedly reference their own behaviours through symbolism and deities to help themselves make sense of their own behaviour and give themselves an understanding of ‘self’.

I see Instagram as a contemporary and democratic method of building a personality identity and actively promoting a curated version of the “self” to the wider society. It is interesting to me from a historic lens of heroes and legends were created through storytelling and craft. Their stories were repeatedly celebrated verbally and visually until they became figures in the collective consciousness through repetition and reinterpretation.

 I can see how social media provides an opportunity for individuals to build a following around them through the collective support of “followers”.  Currently @gatosheko_ has over 15.1k followers (as of 18.04.21). What aesthetic and values has he curated to achieve this type of following and why is it celebrated and desired? Is it his physique or is it how he celebrates the relationship with his body? His outgoing and free personality? Is it because the activity endorses and promotes the use of different drugs and their benefits? Probably all the above- but why do these qualities strike a chord with a greater number of people?

It interests me how we create relationships with symbols like the leopard to represent an aspect of our personality like bravery, strength, charisma intelligence & cunning. These symbols are then entwined with heroes and idols then become legends manifested that are perpetuated through the course of history.

I included other legendary characters within the image as well which relate to surround themes across the series. This includes the constellation Ophiuchus the physician. I thought Ophiuchus was a useful reference point to include in the piece as it linked back to @gatosheko_ interest in biochemistry. He regularly posts about alternative herbal remedies and demonstrates an interest in chemistry and physics through his tattoos.

I chose to depict Ophiuchus as the astronomical constellation for other reasons as well. @gateosheko_ repeatedly shares images of a person meditating and being connected to the universe. The images showcase an interest in being connected to something greater beyond our shared planet. How we can achieve a higher plane of understanding and generally feel more connected to the universe.

Ophiuchus has been creating debate about if it should be considered the 13th Zodiac symbol. This Time article explains the back story

https://time.com/5867647/nasa-zodiac-star/

 and this article provides seven reasons why Ophiuchus isn’t the 13th Zodiac symbol.

https://astrostyle.com/ophiuchus-nasa-new-star-signs/

The main crux of the discussion comes by how the Zodiacs are defined. Constellations are defined as a group of stars which form a particular pattern and are named and identified by their traditional mythological figures. Zodiacs are also constellations, but all constellations are not zodiac constellations. Zodiacs constellations are the specific 12 constellations which are passed by the sun once a year. Zodiac constellations are the constellations which give the zodiac signs to people. In the article it describes how Nasa was basically able to demostrate how Ophiuchus does become visible once a year and therefore should be included whereas the astrostyle provide seven key arguments to why is it not included and never was.

I also like that in the Greek myth, Ophiuchus represents the god of medicine, Asclepius. Asclepius was the son of Apollo and was taught by Chiron, the Centaur. He learned how to bring people back from the dead, which worried Hades.

I mention this because I like the idea of Ophiuchus as an outsider to the Zodiac trying to reclaim his place in the history records and remain immortalised in the human psyche.

Regardless of whose version of the ‘truth’ you subscribe to; with any of the Zodiac, the legend of Ophiuchus etc. It is fascinating to me how details of the stories of Ophiuchus inherently change over generations. The same with any hero or legend, their story is altered by the reinterpretation of the person telling the story. How and why there was a time when a cluster of stars became of such significance that they were named, and an entire identity was formed around their order and gave birth to Ophiuchus’ constellation.

Why have we given those white dots in the night’s sky meaning through story telling? What is its purpose and what is the truth of the legend? Does it have to have a truth? Why is it that lots of people know about these 12 Zodiac symbols and see commonalities in human behaviour?

I like to imagine the possibility of this series of work lasting beyond my lifetime and to be viewed by people without the context of who @gateosheko_ was as a person. Will his tapestry become something of legend? Could people create their own associations and meanings in 1000 years’ time? If the tapestry was found would people manifest a new legend that can continue to exist through time? Would those visual symbols tell the same story, or would an audience with 1000 years apart from today generate completely different conclusions to the meaning of the piece?

I like how similar these gods around from different parts of the world. How these themes remain & reoccur as important aspect of human expression and experience. The model @gatosheko_ represents in parts the legends mentioned in a contemporary way. 

The Planet Jupiter with Ganymede its satellite 

@gatosheko_ has a tattoo sleeve of the planets. I included a representation of Ganymede by Michelangelo positioned next to Jupiter aka Zeus (who abducted Ganymede). This myth has been revised and reinterpreted a lot depending on the person telling the story.

Ganymede was a shepherd, the son of Tros, a legendary king of Troy. His outstanding beauty caused Jupiter to fall in love with him. According to Ovid (Met. 10: 152-161) the god, having transformed himself into an eagle, carried the youth off to Olympus where he made him his cupbearer. The myth, which is given in a slightly different version by Homer, found favour in ancient Greece because it appeared to provide religious sanction for homosexual love.

Michelangelo titled his depiction of Ganymede as ‘The Rape of Ganymede’. At the time Michelangelo created this piece he was 57 and he had met a 17-year called Tommaso dei Cavalieri. The artist was immediately and utterly smitten by the youth's beauty, distinguished appearance, and intellect, and their meeting marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

 Michelangelo sent Tommaso sonnets, letters, and drawings, in which he expressed his love for him. He promoted the young man's artistic interest by teaching him how to draw and by imparting architectural knowledge to him.  

We take a combination of stars in the sky and turn them into stories & ancestry. We learn through storytelling & symbols & this repeats & evolves through time. It is possible to suggest that Michelangelo was using the visual reference of the ‘Rape of Ganymede’ as a way for him to articulate his affection for Cavalieri. Having the legend may have enabled him to justify his desire against a backdrop of Christian values. 

The image itself is very proactive with the Eagle’s wings spread wide as he lifts Ganymede from behind. There is an expression of triumph by the Eagle almost like its wings are arms his punching the air with success. Meanwhile Ganymede’s expression is submissively looking down with a small upward curl on his lips, certainly not fearful or terrified by what the eagle is doing. Did Michelangelo use the allegory of the myth help him justify his attempts at seduction? 

 

There is something fluid and untrustworthy about a visual symbol. Some appear to hold universal agreement and other represent multiple interpretations. @gatosheko_ has a tattoo sleeve of the planets which includes planet Earth. On the tapestry I have removed earth from his arm sleeve and have it held in his right hand. The main purpose of this is to illustrate his connection to his followers across the world and nod to how it is possible to connect to more people across the world than ever before.

I like this ambiguity and I hope that when a person looks at these tapestries, they will form their own conclusions to the true meanings within the work. I believe that truth will relate directly to the viewer based on their personal experiences and interactions with external ‘stimulants’ from the world. These ‘stimulants’ could be knowledge of myths and legends and chemical compositions or just an enjoyment of something pretty made from textiles. Regardless context informs how the work is viewed. I hope to achieve a tapestry that can be enjoyed with or without context.

Every observer of the work will eventually reach conclusion about what they thought about the piece of work. I imagine each observer will decide its value against a context of other tapestries or artworks that they have experienced before and then reach a judgement regarding the piece’s value.

Part of the reason why there is also an owl with an hourglass in its claws over his left shoulder is as comment on the notion of time. The image is one of his many tattoos, the owl and hourglass is on @gatosheko_’s back.

In this pose he also has his hand behind his head which makes it possible to showcase several books which are piled. This is a part of his tattoo sleeve which include an ink well and quill. These symbols make me think of wisdom, knowledge and making a mark in history.

The combination of these elements of the knowledge, time and history is me articulating a “mark in history”. I believe this is a combination of @gatosheko_ values which he displayed on himself. I have then taken elements of these which I have identified with and repurposed them to voice my own concepts. I am aware that next people will view the work and form their own judgements and articulate new stories from the work. I hope that this essay will help navigate some of those themes and act like a trail back to these steppingstones in history.

Some of @gatosheko_ tattoos also express a curiosity for life. The tattoos show interests in molecules compounds, he has different symbols associated with science, as well as planets and animals and sea life. He appears to be very considerate of the wonderous aspects of life and celebrities it with a collection of visual treasures` across his body.

He also uploads pictures of mind altering states and promotes the alternative benefits of using drugs like Cannabis. He has even held Instagram live interviews to discuss these topics. He often shares images of different chemical compounds drugs, vegetables and emotions to show the similarities in their chemical structure. I like how he is interested in things like the planets and universe down to the molecular structures of things.

I included some of his shared calculations which he wrote on glass and took a picture of. I have no idea what those calculations mean. To me they are a series of unreadable hieroglyphs.

I like that atoms and molecules are the building blocks for life and this these blocks can form patterns that become living things. These elements and compounds are so vast they can form constellations in our night sky. I like how compound structure and constellations look a little similar line and dots which we can understand and make meaning from. Two vastly different scales in size, One incredibly tiny the other unfathomable huge.

Yet through drawing some dots and lines we can communicate to each other and understand the difference between what we are describing as a chemical compound and a constellation in a night sky.

With the tapestry I have chosen to include some of these symbols in the bottom right from one of his pictures. Within the tapestry on the background of the top right-hand corner I also included some chemical compounds which were chosen specifically because they represent the drugs, Ecstasy, Cannabis and LSD.

I wanted to illustrate how @gatosehko emerging between planes of existence with tattoos from his upper sleeve on his left peeling off his skin. Down by his right rib is a tattoo of an astronaut lost in a void beneath his skin. I was inspired to show where the astronaut ended up lost floating in this tapestry instead. The astronaut is surrounded by flying birds which have burst through a birdcage and made their escape. Again this is based on a tattoo of birds escaping free from a cage which are close to his six pack on his right side.

 These tattoos nod to nihilism with a astronaut lost in a void and escapism with visual symbols of fleeing birds. His interest in mind altering drugs and these tattoos suggest someone breaking free or having the desire to escape. I wanted the tapestry to reflect some of these themes and embellish upon them to create something new. I believe imagination and looking inward is another means of escapism.

 I personally enjoy escaping through reading and art and I believe in the power of imaginative thought. I do also believe drugs can be transformative if used in a moderate and respectful way. I do believe there are great positives in providing new perspectives and ways of viewing the world and the universe through the assistance of drugs. I also acknowledge the consequences, cultural understandings and behaviours of consuming drugs that has led to negative connotations with drugs as well.  

 

I like the idea of ‘Xochipilli’ Based on the god of art, games, dance, flowers, & song in Aztec mythology aka the flower Prince. It is important to understand that the statue figure of Xochipilli has several psychedelic flowers and fungi on the figurine. 

It is as though this figure is a representation of a conduit to another plane or realm of understanding and existence. I hope that @gatsheko_ can embody this depiction as well. I want the tapestry to emulate wider questions of who we are and why we are here.

 I want the tapestry to suggest how that an ongoing question throughout history and how we use symbols, allegory and metaphor to help ourselves come to conclusions about those questions. How we experience, experiment, and explore to take ourselves to new horizons of meaning.

Notes on Construction of the piece.

This piece took 112 hours about 22 days (on a five-hour average). If I was paying myself (which I am not) and I charged £50 per day (£10 per hour rate) this piece would cost £1,100. This is really encouraging because it indicates that I am getting faster and producing work more quickly with Pilgram costing £1,250 in labour and Hard-Core Vibes £3,450. If I can keep producing work at this speed, I will be happy, and it gives me a benchmark for myself to consider how I should value the work overall.

I had learnt from my previous reflection and built up the image using a foundation of sewing lines first. I made used a single layer of thicker Plain Robust Twill which is made from 100% cotton. This was fine to use as a single layer but when I layer more fabric on top it becomes problematic as the material gets thicker. The next piece I am working on is using the Robust Twill as the base but then working on top of the piece with a lightweight polycotton 65% polyester and 35% cotton blend.  I intend to draw out my images on this blend and then layer it on top of the thicker base to help minimize damage to the sewing machine!

The piece has also benefited from working in crossing lines to build up the piece instead of working straight into the detail. Now I make various longer and crossing lines across the piece when I work. I also have noted that if I am creating curved or circular sections I have to make sure that they are separate to the rest of the piece. I have to cut them out and applique the piece into the tapestry otherwise the material warps and bunches as circular motioned brings the material together.

I’m also finding smaller stitching which is consistent across the piece easier to manage as a whole. Previously I experimented with a lot of types of thread and stitch now I have learnt it is better to keep consistent for as much of the piece as possible and only add finer stitch details at the end.

My friend also introduced me to the process of dying fabric naturally! This was something that was really exciting and new for me. We used two cereal bowls full of onion skins and set to boil in a large pot to boil for an hour. My friend explained that for stronger colour soak the fabric with half teaspoon of iron sulphate to concentrate the dye. 

I used this technique for the the leopard print aspect of the tapestry which I wanted to be underneath the model’s skin ( – to reflect the leopard within). I needed a leopard skin print which was the appropriate scale to the model which was impossible to do whilst I’ve been stuck at home because of lockdown restrictions. So this was a great way to trial a new technique and also get the right size spots for my leopard print!

Something I really struggled with this piece is the planning aspect. I new that I had certain themes I wanted to capture in the piece, but I didn’t do a trail drawing like I did for Pilgrim. On reflection that was a mistake as I got into more trouble later on. I did plan out the figure first by sketching out the proportions of the his body and then projecting on to a wall and taping the fabric in place. As I was unsure of the size and scale of the figure and how much space I would have left I wasn't sure how much I could include. 

 I hadn’t worked through my ideas and it made decisions about what to include in the image and where much more challenging. I have since started my next piece Artist/Activist and planned out the image which has really helped direct me with my final image. 

As I cut out the shapes and pieces for the different areas of the symbols surrounding the main image, I feel a lot more confident about the over all composition. I have to remember to plan in this for the fifth piece because I know it will be my most challenging image yet. I struggled with @gatosheko_ body because I needed to make the figure feel like a full human form and include enough shading and curves to achieve his likeness.

I did plan his body out a lot more than I have with the previous pieces and I used an app called Photo Mix which allowed me to blend two pictures together. Because I did this using the Instagram picture of @gatosheko_ and layered my image on top that Instagram picture I was able to test and see how much of the proportion were accurate.

 

It was a helpful tool because I could see where the eyes were out of portion and where I had a bit too much or too little. It’s definitely strengthened the likeness over all.