Stereotypes, assumptions and expectations … the three fundamentals of a Liv Fontaine performance.
Radical by nature, she is fierce in her pursuit to expose society’s impenetrable perspective of women.
By absorbing every deep-rooted assumption made of them she is able to unleash the twisted reality on her audience in the form of hysterical characters like Treacle Fuckface.
On the surface, her work is often comical and even crazy but the message is very clear – we don’t want the pay gap, and we don’t want Brexit.
I had originally planned to meet Liv Fontaine at her gallery HAHA, but instead we agree to meet at her flat in the city where she was born and raised, Southampton. A huge stained glass doorway, mosaic tiled flooring and an oak staircase lead me to the two bed abode where she is waiting for me at the door.
As she invites me inside, the décor justifies that this is the home of someone who prefers the less traditional things in life, in the most subtle way. Beautiful high ceilings and art work everywhere.
A framed abstract Kandinsky print is spread across one of the walls. An oak cabinet, holds a huge display of spiritual sculptures. A ‘crucifixion of Jesus’ statue sits next to a wooden box with the Star of David engraved on the top. I’m fascinated when Liv tells me that she doesn’t follow a religion, but just really loves iconography.
Perhaps wrongly, a part of me expected, even hoped for her to greet me in the iconic blonde wig and pink bikini, that some know as Treacle Fuckface.
In reality, she is fresh faced, wearing blue skinny jeans, a red top and hoodie and in hindsight, the idea of an extravagant performance upon arrival would have failed me the opportunity to paint an accurate picture of Liv.
The link is something that she also acknowledges, “I feel like there’s this expectation that you’re always a bit of a performer, but days like today I’m very hungover”, she warns me.
Liv’s neurotic performance persona, is individual to her gentle self, and hangover aside she is naturally vibrant and beautiful. As we laugh about events from the night before, the Cava we had ambitiously planned to drink at 1pm turns into a brew!
We take it back to an earlier time in Liv’s life, which she tells me, “isn’t particularly interesting… I became a woman and things got more interesting.” Liv’s mum encouraged her to pursue art when she was growing up, and supported her in every choice that she made. “She just said, yeah be an artist if that’s what you want to do, go to art school… it’s good, because obviously art wasn’t going to make any money but I was still encouraged to do it”, she reflects and goes on: “then again, thinking about it now, maybe it’s better to encourage the kids to make money because you know it’s much harder these days isn’t it.”
When money talks, social media ‘is life’ and English higher education fees are at an all-time high, the future feels uncertain for a huge generation, but Liv has some advice, “be an artist but be an engineer too.”
Approaching these issues of social and political concern with such controversy gained Liv attention as a student of Chelsea College of Art. “I made self-photographs and self-video work, where I would be different characters, so they just had a really performative aspect to them… but of course there wasn’t an audience so I already started to think about performance art then.” These eccentric personas are at the heart of her practice, “[they] are caricatures really, of these women that we know in society… like the lusty busty exhibitionist is the kind of woman that’s perceived to be a bit of a slut I suppose.”
By embracing every strident stereotype, Liv uses characters as a vehicle for her message, “there’s a lot that you can’t really say as yourself, but if you’re someone else then you have a license to say whatever you want… it’s a protective shield.” The relationship that she has with them is evident in the way that she performs, and allows herself to become them in the rawest form. “They are relatable, the slut in particular is so familiar and based on so many media myths. People are comfortable with her as long as she stays simple, but she’s actually very complicated, so in saying the things I do [whist as her] is unexpected and can force the audience to re-examine their impressions and judgements. There is a type of reclamation happening but I also want people to realise how damaging these stereotypes can be.”
“Look at the president of the United States for god’s sake, Brexit?
The world has gone mad. It’s totally wild but somehow totally normal.”
Liv Fontaine is on a continual creative journey. Best recognised for her writing, art and performances, she engages with societal truths regarding sex, gender and art, and flips them on their head. “I’m just making work about things that I think are important. I am trying to present a certain reality that is completely familiar, but within that reality so much wildness and horror is accepted. Why are woman so in danger? What’s up with the pay gap? Why is this man rubbing his dick up against me on the bus? Look at the president of the United States for gods sake, Brexit? The world has gone mad. It’s totally wild but somehow totally normal.”
The manifestation of this unapologetic anger has developed through Liv’s every day encounters, which are relatable to a huge community of women, “my work is autobiographical, and I talk to a lot of women.” For some women who experience the persistent stalking, harassment, domestic violence, and persecution that has become so acceptable, they actually expect it when they leave their house each day, and have to casually accept it.
This inspired a 25-minute monologue entitled Why Society Needs Sluts Like Me, which is a performance that Liv put together during a seminar on female hysteria. The exterior of the unintelligent, sexualized, man stealing, gold digging female who should be seen but not heard, also typecast as the slut. The theme thickens, “she’s so multifaceted” Liv unveils that once you unpeel her layers, then you find the less compromised and more evolved woman that society is yet to adapt to. “These characters are seemingly emotionless, [but] they’re asked to take on so much” Liv pleads. And how right she is that even in the feminist progression of 2017, women are still battling with what it means to be a ‘real woman’. Well fuck that, because what we do know of these ‘real women’, who are perceived to be flawless are in fact completely orchestrated. They are the opposite of real and the downfall for every generation coming up beneath us who are too young to understand that what they’re portrayed as isn’t obtainable. The placement of each hair has been carefully considered, the editing process of these images, these videos, these souls has gone through such an intricate and controlled screening process that the result is, unfortunately the exact opposite… the most fake, man-made women.
Allow me to introduce you to Treacle Fuckface, who as mentioned earlier is a blonde wig, pink bikini wearing babe and once Liv’s best-loved alter ego. Empowered, audacious and sexually entrepreneurial, she is society’s most condemned woman whilst remaining it’s most feared.
Online, Treacle shares; ‘I always dreamt of being in magazines like Playboy or Penthouse. You can’t be in Playboy if you charge for sex.’ Since the dawn of man, female sexual liberation has been repressed and even in this progressive generation, the idea of openly sexual women who feels no humility in fulfilling a perfectly natural desire is of utter outrage.
Women like her are readily abused as commodification’s every day, but god forbid she acknowledges her own appeal and succumbs to demand, for personal gain. Liv is confident when she says that it’s these women that keep society in-tact, “this is not work for the faint hearted, its emotionally laborious and tiring.” Through her overwhelming passion, there is also a sense of exhaustion in having to go through the despair once again. She adds; “sluts are goal posts of moral accountability, but who is qualified to label a woman a slut?”
By definition, ‘slut’ is a derogatory noun… ‘a woman who has many casual sexual partners’. Research by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton from the University of Michigan claims that the label is evolving to divide women based upon class. The study recognizes the gradient between poorer working class women, being considered ‘tacky’ and ‘skanky’ opposed to wealthier women who are held high in empowerment for similar sexual behaviour. Liv is aware of these damaging double standards, and it’s clearly not subject to class but also gender. Slut shaming is at rife via the most influential platform available to children right now, publicly encouraging the vicious and pitiful patriarchy.
Through Treacle Fuckface, Liv was able to push what she brands “a militant feminist agenda” but eventually, their relationship came to an end, as she explains, “I just had to stop playing this character because there was a cross over between her and my life and it became unclear what was a performance.” It appears that there are times when Liv feels more comfortable expressing herself through these characters than as her actual self, which is something that she soon realised. “After the show I might be sitting on men’s laps as her and then I’m going as far away from the performance and the audience to continue her on in a private.” Liv maintains an emotional bond with the subjective character through putting Treacle up for auction. “The highest bidder got to have this contract which says that I’ll no longer perform as her in public, you can have a private correspondence with her, as her.” It set a necessary boundary between the pair. Liv still embodies alter egos in her performance work but tells me, “there’s more of myself in there as I get more confident.”
My interest turns to the role of the audience in Liv’s performances, which she tells me is an “ever changing relationship.” They are a key role in each performance and Liv often improvises depending on their reaction, “with [them] being there in front of you, it’s easier to control that or attempt to control that or manipulate it and it’s exciting when maybe your control goes wrong or something.” This becomes particularly intriguing in her nude performances, because we all love a naked body, but nudity is inseparable with sexuality, pleasure and in the grand scheme of it, people are massively offended by a naked woman. Women are shamed for their bare body, unless you’re a size six, with perky breasts and not a stretch mark in place, and someone can make money from it so that someone else can get off from it. Facebook and Instagram have gone far enough as to censor the female nipple from its existence.
I guess what Liv is saying, is that it’s about perspective. She tells me how she finds power in the subversion of gaze. “Who has the control? who is vulnerable?” she questions. In our visual hungry culture, a woman lay in all of her naked glory is viewed as vulnerable, even powerless. In porn, the glamorous show-girl is eroticised and subjected to male superiority. In movies, the generic fairytale storyline follows the love story of a lusty lady who needs a big strong man as her muse. Even historically, in fine art nude women are always the object of male desire and fantasy. We absorb this, and we indirectly become possessed by it too. When this perspective is chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated and spat back out, I imagine it to look a little something like a Liv Fontaine performance. She is in the driving seat but allows the audience to steer, giving them the illusion of power. Very literally in some performances like, ‘True Love and Remote Pleasure’ in which Liv sits with a selfie stick, and a vibrator in place. When someone takes a selfie, then the vibrator is set off.
The power relationship is in constant query, but Liv is always keen not to give too much away, “I want the audience to come to their own conclusions.”