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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Puke On Gaga – Honoring Vomit

By Rachel Clark

In this short film, used both as an opening to the second act of the Monster Ball tour and previously exhibited within the SHOWstudio exhibition “Inside/Out,” Gaga is first seen elegantly dressed in a Marko Mitanovski gown. Standing atop a small marble podium in a plain studio setting, her all white costume and stony expression are reminiscent of the classical sculpture of Greece and Rome. The sharp constructs of Gaga’s dress, whilst shifting gracefully in the breeze of a wind machine, reflect the textual carving of fabric in Renaissance masterpieces such as Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa.” In an unflinching, powerful stance, Gaga embodies these two celebrated canons as a perfectly constructed object, stationed in homage to fine art and high fashion for the twenty-first century.

Yet, within seconds, the image is disrupted. We hear Gaga scream “Make it Stop!” on the overlaying soundtrack as her legs are reversed, thereby challenging the previous illusion of the ideal, and forcing its reassessment in the wake of this now divided human body. She is at once a beautiful object and a physically fractured human subject as the statement “I’m A Free Bitch” begins to permeate the disco beat soundtrack. These two declarations provide a subtle commentary to the visual discord. “Make It Stop!” is screamed like a battle cry, functioning as a catalyst for the corruption of the harmonious opening scene. The classical quest for visual perfection is abandoned in favor of the twisted image Gaga becomes. In this disruption, Gaga is freed from art’s confining rules regarding the beautiful and logical, and becomes capable of embodying the monstrous and fantastic in its place.

The title “Puke On Gaga” is taken from the film’s following segment, wherein the New York performance artist Millie Brown is seen straddling a now seated Gaga, vomiting a stream of sparkling, luminous paint upon her. Significantly, Brown is dressed in all black, wearing an outfit that fans of Gaga will associate with her pre-Gaga Stefani Germanotta Band stage attire. Gaga has also previously referenced Stefani Germanotta in the video for “Telephone,” where she cast her younger sister as her younger self.  The effect in this case is that we bear witness to Stefani Germanotta vomiting on Lady Gaga.

Some have suggested that the vomit should be interpreted as an act of disgust, an expression of a repressed disappointment felt by Germanotta that her past identity had to be erased in order to achieve worldwide success as Lady Gaga. It could be that this is an act of rebellion against the superficiality of the Lady Gaga construction, but then, how does this sit with Gaga’s frequent refusal to separate these two personas? As she herself often attests, Stefani Germanotta was always Lady Gaga: “I don’t want anyone to separate who I am with my makeup on from who I am without it. I’m the same person.”

Modern artists have frequently explored their relationship to their own bodily fluids. Marcel Duchamp upturned his urinal, Piero Manzoni canned his “Artist’s Shit,” and today, Millie Brown performs by vomiting rainbows of colored milk onto blank canvases in order to “use [her] body to create art in a way that challenges people’s perception of beauty.

In a literal act of artistic regurgitation, Brown/Germanotta turns her insides out, and splatters the superficially ideal image of Gaga with the glittering colors of her interior self. There is no medium of creation other than the physical body in this moment. Against the traditions of formal art training and beauty, which the unwavering Gaga-as-sculpture represents, there are no words, no consumable images, only a visceral demonstration of the potential of turning what is inside us into an artistic act.

In Gagavision 43, Gaga states, “the creative process is fifteen minutes of vomiting … it all happens in fifteen minutes this giant regurgitation of my thoughts and feelings, then I spend days, months, years fine tuning. But the idea is you have to honor your vomit, you have to honor those fifteen minutes.” What does it mean to honor one’s vomit? Why does Gaga feel affinity with what would be an abject act? The answer, I believe, lies in the physicality of the act itself. Our bodily expulsions are the most primal of life experience, and we are often powerless to control them. When our bodies reject these fluids, they are forced outside ourselves as we are forced outside of ourselves when we observe them. As Julia Kristeva has argued, they are made by and of us, yet they embody an entire otherness in their gross exterior existence. To observe the abject is to briefly rupture consciousness, as the many paradoxes of subjectivity and objectivity come to dwell upon a terrible truth of physical existence. To honor one’s vomit is to honor the power of this realization: that we can never escape bodies, that before culture we are animals, and that understanding is not akin to reality. This sensation, a compelling leap into deep thinking and primal repression, has been described by Giles Deleuze as a “discordant accord,” and its potential to create a collision of the senses can be understood as central to the world’s most affective works of art. Via a stream of shimmering blue Gaga invites us to find this artistic potential inside of ourselves, and regurgitate our own thoughts and feelings without shame or regret.

As we hear Gaga scream “Make It Stop” once again, the film cuts to a close up of Gaga eating a raw bovine heart. The story goes that Nick Knight challenged her to do this as means of externalizing the traumatic fears she faced concerning her father’s heart surgery. The effect is a conceptual reversal of the previous image of externalized artistic creativity, as we watch Gaga devour the symbolically laden internal organ.

One must not only produce to create art, but also consume: such is the cyclical nature of creativity. In her first V Magazine column, Gaga asserts the necessity of consumption to inspiration: she considers the act of re-appropriation as both transformative and radical. In Gaga’s interpretation, the creation of art is marked with violence and suffering, as illustrated in the grotesque images of self-induced vomiting and eating raw flesh. As tears of blood are seen to run down her cheeks as she bites, her voice is heard listing the names of tragic beauty queens in what is both a tribute to the damages of fame and a testament to its immortality.

The final scene shows Gaga in the studio being decorated, powdered, gagged, and bound by Matty Dada (the creative director of Haus of Gaga at the time of filming). Gaga retains her silent, objective composure, becoming the passive puppet of fame that the world’s superstars are commonly imagined to be whilst her image is physically developed by a rough-handed assistant. Her alteration by the hands of Dada becomes gradually more aggressive, the connotations of bondage increasing as Gaga is bandaged, blind-folded, braced, and strapped to pieces of wood that imitate the hoisting of a figure onto an easel, or even crucifix. Again a theme of immortality emerges, and the famous vessel becomes an icon of worship. Gaga has adopted religious iconography across her oeuvre, and here, once again, we find fame fashioned as a new religion and Gaga suffering for the love of her fans.

This construction via an act of extreme styling represents the modern-day public persona. Manipulated to the point of abstraction, Gaga objectifies herself as a celebrity, whilst casting a shade of violence over the ritual of getting done one’s “hair and make-up.” Beauty and pain go hand-in-hand for women the world over, but Gaga pushes the boundaries of these expectations, forever forcing confrontation with unspoken truths through her elaborate performances of celebrity such as this.

In all, the film’s sequence works to remind us of what we often forget – that our sense of reality is a fragile construction. She challenges first the classical notion of beauty, severing it with a simple twist of her legs, before “honoring her vomit” across the ideal object and staining it with her creative juices. In the final scene, we see the literal process of beauty being constructed, but it is rendered exploitative and disabling. This seemingly innate sense of what makes another person attractive is one of the many false truths our lives are constructed upon, and Gaga pushes us to examine what thought really is. By tapping into the Deleuzian “discordant accord,” she liberates her Little Monsters by making these strict social expectations ridiculous, and by offering art as a means of salvation. The real art here is not the beautiful mannequin the viewer is first introduced to, or her final subtly Christ-like transformation, but the artistic regurgitation upon them. By honoring our vomit, we confront our subjective existence within the raw meat of our bodies and recognize that it is only through imagination and creative expression that we can be free.

Author Bio:
Rachel Clark is a 22-year-old Cultural Studies postgraduate student, BA Hons in Art History and Museum Studies, with a keen interest in contemporary art, memory studies, and postmodern theory. She is currently based in Leeds in the North of England. As an avid fan of techno and electro, Gaga isn’t her usual cup of tea, but she was ‘enlightened’ by her dear Mum, who took her to see the Monster Ball live – She’s been a little monster and proud ever since!

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  1. Very good article. I was quite dismayed when Dada's part was taken out in the last Monster Ball leg.

  2. I enjoyed your article; thanks!

    Of course being me I can't not see the video in Marxist terms: we're all drawn from birth into the hamster wheel of modern capitalism. We produce (vomit and shit) so that we may consume (eat). The power of this process is immense and relentless. "Make it stop" is a sentiment I've felt many times when unable to stop consuming (thinking, listening, watching, buying) and producing (blogging, tweeting, puking).

    I'm so glad someone can put this in something resembling more optimistic terms!

  3. You have captured the beauty and intricate details of this video. Thank you for interpreting this work of art into something the common, so-called "mainstream" person could understand. I definitely don't have the ability to define this art myself. So, thank you for giving this article to the minds that cannot grasp the true art of Lady Gaga.


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