Using different voices, Liquid Selves explores a body of work
made by dripping bitumen onto canvas. Through the
different texts (the ëpersonalí, the ëtheoreticí and the
ëpoeticí) Delpha Hudson explores the fragmentary and
multiple nature of self, selfhood and gender, and how these
might be discursively understood as her art practice.Page 1
Writing in 3 voices
Since 2007 I have been dripping bitumen instead of painting, creating a ëliquid
aestheticí. Dripping bitumen onto white gessoed canvases, figures, patterns, and
partial narratives, began to emerge. The suspension of ordinary rules of painting and
the potential to depict a fantasy of self led to a visual imagery of many ëtypes,í
(archetypes, rather than stereotypes) constructed in time and space. These 'types'
both somehow typified all women, and my own personal experiences. ëLiquid Selves'
seemed an appropriate description of not just the medium which never entirely
solidifies, but also for the subject of self, as never entirely fixed.
In order to understand and interpret the work, I began researching and writing about
the process; the words like the images were split like subjectivity into many voices.
Three main voices emerged which could be described as ëthe theoreticalí, ëthe
personalí, and ëthe poeticí.
I hope the text in some way reflects the perpetual conversation, and continual
rumble that we all experience as we negotiate different 'voices', and who we think we
are. Each of us are many continually transforming 'selves'.
Page 4
Voice 1: the personal
With my given name ëDelphaí I have always been fascinated by the classical tradition of
self-knowledge, and the Delphic oracleís admonition ëknow thyselfí. Dripping bitumen onto
canvases has become a performance and dream of self, a personal reflection on selfhood and
identity. In performance works exploring gender and female identity, I have endeavoured to
use Braidottiís idea of ëdissonant voices moving between positions in a nomadic quest for
alternative representation of female feminist subjectivityí.
Playing with different subject positions, negotiating identity in different ways, often
occurred by a ëslippageí between my performed self, and ëmeí (or ëherí). Written in Milk,
(2001), and Written in Honey (2002) were both inspired by Helene Cixousí ëÈcriture
feminineí, and Luce Irigarayís project of ëwriting the body,í as both explored the textural
and gestural properties of writing in different symbolic media. In Written in Milk, I covered
white linen spread on the floor of an exhibition space (approx 150mx40metres), in
ëautomatic writingí written in milk. Taking a whole day, the writing became a fatty residue,
leaving barely legible traces. It created a sickly smell that permeated the space. The object
was not the writing itself, but a process and performance of writing myself. The linen was
washed and re-used for bedding.
Page 5
In Written in Honey, I created huge window handings for a Tudor house at Helmsley in
Yorkshire. Using locally produced honey, I coveed the translucent cloth with historical
images and narratives (some fabricated by myself). The marks created by dripping honey
were invisible until held up to the light. A metaphor for the invisiblity of women, especially
in histories written by men, the hangings were made to evidence the day-to-day lives of
ordinary women. The process was a performance of combining image and text in sitespecific installation, created with the hope of somehow embodying gendered identities.
Images left to right: Written in Milk, (2000) , Written in Honey, (2000),
Pieces of Scarlet, (2001)
Page 6
Fascinated by histories of text and image, Pieces of Scarlet (2000) was a performance in
Birmingham city centre, in which pieces of red material wth symbols and letters were placed
in 25 layers of white undergarments. These were removed layer by layer and the 'pieces of
scarlet' handed out to the public. Both symbols and letters were historically believed to have
magical properties if worn next to the skin. Often single alphabetical letters replaced
symbols as people became literate. Wearing these texts next to the skin, and peeling them
off layer by layer was a metaphor for the palimpsest of the self. A historical play with text,
symbol, gift and gender as the white underwear attracted crowds, who would not always
accept the mysterious gift of a piece of scarlet. but wondered how far the disavowal of
clothing would go........
Writing and pattern making with bitumen has become a different kind of performance of
gender and self. In fact, exploring identity itself. I want to explore what it means to be not
only one woman, but many women. Liquid Selves are a process and performance of ëknowing
Voice 2 the theoretical
In Feminist thought the project of unfixing identity is important to dispelling myths about
sex and gender stereotypes. Identity is ëperformedí by the subject, enacted and
negotiated through social and cultural roles. Gender is constructed, not biologically
determined. The performance of identity for women has been one of the performance of
ëfemininityí, weighted with expectation and confined to stereotypes. The notion of ëfixed
identityí remains a founding stone of Western society and thought. It supports an ordering
of society in which everyone is fixed, and should not exceed their position.
Feminist theorists Simone De Beauvoir, Helene Cixous, and Luce Irigaray have used
theories of embodied and sexually differentiated subjectivity to invent ways of
overcoming fixity, loosening the ties between gender, sex, essentialism, and difference
through new kinds of writing. Their writing about sexual difference tampers with
theoretical constructs. Re-interpreting the psycho-social development of a child based
around its body and conditioning, examines the tension and struggle between
circumstances and individuation. Writing of sexual difference goes beyond the material
and social factors affecting self.
One of the shrouds of conditioning is the conformity of belief that as individuals we have
only one ëselfí, one identity. This is the ëdream of unity,í a myth of a unitary ëIí that must
be shattered in order to re-negotiate gendered subjectivity.
p.8 ā€˜Iā€™
p9:Voice 2 the theoretical
ë Ö a man is defined as a being who is not given, who makes himself what he is. As
Merleau-Ponty very justly puts it, man is not a natural species, he is an historical
idea. Woman is not a fixed reality, but rather a becomingí.
Here Simone De Beauvoir unfixes the stereotype of woman with the concept of ëbecoming
womaní. Exceeding traditional notions of identity and subjectivity, opens a crack in
discourse which acknowledges the possibility of liberating multiplicities, and fragmenting
single representations of female stereotypes. ëBecomingí infers a continual process, it
cannot be fixed. Feminist theory incites the ëIí to a new relation with herself, others and
symbolic order,í and allows the transformation of the structure and images of thought. In
this flux, the individual faces contradictions whatever s/he does, whoever s/he believes
herself to be, negotiating identity and subjectivity, through ëplurality, overlap, and
manoeuvreí . Discovering s/he has a freedom to use nomadic contingency, and gently
nudge ideas that proffer alternative modes of being, and alternative ways of representing
self and gender, the idea of identity becomes a discursive premise.
p.10 me-you-her-it
The children loved the countryside
They would run and hide
They loved the seaside
They would all play and ride
The waves, until it was time to go back to the city.
One day they went far way to a little village by the sea.
Their great-grandpa (who always said ëbless my buttons!í)
lived in a little cottage by the harbour.
They loved jumping from the old stonewalls
into the smooth green
Their mother seemed especially happy
She sat for hours watching the bright water
She loved the salt smell
p.12 She felt at home
with herself
The children watched
and felt a little lonely.
But they played
their games and bought their treasures to her.
p.13 voice: the personal
I am transformed by the thought that I am, and can be many people. One of
my many selves has been ëmotherí. My work has often focussed on the
problematic of representing ëmotherí beyond stereotypes. Motherhood
traditionally depends upon a performance of self-less mother-love, a cultural
collusion in which the gendered self is completely negated for the love and
good of the child. Although this is presumed to be a ënaturalí for women,
when they become mothers, in reality the irony is that women need to
appropriate new selves to succeed in this role. Discovering what Feminist art
and theory had to say about this was for me ëwinning the right to mix and
match stereotypes', I discovered like many women I could be a mother and
retain my sanity and sense of self, and ërecoverÖfrom the degradation of
being divided against myselfí.
Using clothing and ritual in my first performance Man Created the Word in 1999, I worked
through three characters, in what I thought of as a íritualized shedding of personaeí. These
were all characters I felt I had encountered and performed. Wearing fishermensí yellow
3 images man made he word
overalls I presented a male figure, gutting fish, with power over living and dead things, as
well as potentially a ëfisher of mení, Peeling off the waterproofs revealed a manís pinstriped
suit, in which I typed and read from the bible:
ëSo God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him;Ö and the word,
the word was with Godí. I wanted to present the moment in history where men took credit
for creation, and control of language. I wanted to intervene and bare the irony. Peeling off
the suit revealed a wedding dress. Putting on high heels and an apron, I crafted a baby out
of lard.
A messy, smelly performance which revealing bitterness at societies that give lip service to
women for the role they play in creating life and mothering, whilst real power, through the
control of word and image, remains in the hands of men.
Speaking, or representing difference in order to play with semiotic
apparatus of traditional images, symbolisation and the symbolic, can
change how we think and what we think Dr Ryya Bread writing for her PhD
at Falmouth in 2001, explored visual material representation and how it
operates within the linguistic realm of symbolic order in the formation of
subjectivity. Image and materiality have a specific position to each other,
and can embody, and create differing signifying values with regard to
representation of a subject. Cixousís project of ëwriting differenceí could
also be a project for creating difference using image, symbols as well as
the written word.
An ancient symbol, the mermaid has an interesting history of change and
in many ways is a ëtypeí for how women are viewed at anytime in history.
An ancient symbol of power and fertility the mermaid became a symbol of
vanity and evil from the 17th century, with her comb and mirror. The
stories about her start to change and she becomes an evil siren destroying
men. Victorian Pre-Raphelites presented the mermaid as a lascivious maneater.
and sexual humour in films were later presented in films such as ëMirandaí
[1948], ëThe Little Mermaidí [1989], and ëSplashí, [1990]. By the end of the
20th century, the mermaid symbol used for breast cancer awareness by
the Mermaid Trust, presents a less sexualized female symbol, with
potential to re-structure assumptions through re-representation and
Like language, the power of image and symbol has been used through out
history to control and equally to subvert thought. Ancient and Communist
China consistently used beautiful and poetic symbols to control the
thinking of huge populations. The same is true in the West as advertising
appropriates image and symbols, changing their meaning almost daily,
creating a situation in which theorists conclude such ësignsí become
meaningless. Artists use such materials in an almost ëdiabolicí way
subverting the uses of symbols and images in personal and poetic ways.
p.17 HER-ME
One day she swam out to sea.
The water was bright and fresh and green.
All the way to the island, climbed up to the highest rock, then back
to the waterís edgeÖ..
Lapping around her ankles, her legs grew together in the
Her long, thin feet became fins.
Now at one with the water she swam free
A mermaid was what she was destined to be
p.19 I-HERE (C/UPS)
I find myself drawn towards viusal image and text, without using one to illustrate the
Wanting to represent in some ways ideas.
Endeavouring to find a language that nudges and pulls the person standing in front of my
work, into another world.
A world of possibilitiy in which each one of us is many.
iquid Selves start with the premise that visual material representation is one way that
we can explore unstable and unfixed identities, and in so doing represent gendered
difference. I want my paintings to give a sense of being, so that a woman is aware of
herselvesÖthat the on-looker knows that she is there.
Chemically and textually I think of bitumen as a ëmotheryí or slime that from which
we emerged. A birth of an idea, it is a reference to growth, change, and constant
transformation. The instability of the medium means that it is never really fixed. I
find an almost compulsive beauty in the way it stands out from the surface of the
canvas, and in a smooth, glossy way ëgiv[es] tactile values to retinal impressionsí.
Using sticks to drip bitumen onto surfaces is an almost ëautomaticí process as
limited control means that whilst I am ëtransferringí ideas onto the surface of the
canvas or board, the accidental dripping or ëblottingí, creates additional new forms.
The chance drippings and droolings of the medium, create subconscious suggestions
and like Cixous' metaphors for women as la mer/mËre (sea-mother), or a ëdark
continentí. Bitumenís inky dark fluidity is unknowable, foreign and Other. Forms
appear like phantoms.
P22, 23,24
The figures dripped in bitumen, energize the space around them,
anthromorphizing traces, with nuances of narrative. These are ëtypesí,
inviting audiences to internalize the figures and patterns as symbols in
relationship to each other.
Writing and text is made up of black and white patterns. In iquid Selves, the
contrast of using only the dark bitumen on white gessoed canvas is like a
metaphor for text and subjectivity, split between thought, and
transformation. Interpretation is dependent on an ability to 'read' the
figures and patterns.
ëLanguage takes on a meaning for the child when it establishes a situation
for him. A story is told in a childrensí book of the disappointment of a small
boy who put on his grandmotherís spectacles and took her book in the
expectation of being able himself to find the stories which she used to tell
him. The tale ends with these words: ëWell, what a fraud! Whereís the
story? I can see nothing but black and whiteí.(Merleau-Ponty in Toril Moi).
Writing, drawing and painting is not a process of innocence and
passivity, emptying the ëprospect of meaningí in order to re-fill it with
another. The use of single or multiple figures encourages identification and
the invention of narrative. The patterns are sometimes orderly and natural,
at other times they are dreadful overgrown areas which impart a sense of
skewed beauty. They are not Edenic scenes, beautiful in symmetry or
regularity, they split the canvas into areas of chaos and emptiness. In this
distorted nature characters emerge as inky clumsy marks to be
transformed by interpretive frames.
The process of applying bitumen with a stick uses chance, and
happenstance, ëalmost as if the eye knows something of which the mind
knows nothing.í The patterns and blank spaces in Liquid Selves do not
seem like an imitation of nature. Pattern, image and text become
ëiconographic utterance,Ö.the dream as a fiction constructed by a unique
aesthetic; the transformation of the subject into [her] thoughts, specifically
the placing of the self into an allegory of desire and dread that is fashioned
by the egoí.
4 images:
er children cried to her but all
she could hear were the
She went on swimming
Past Merlin Rock,
Past Lamorna Cove,
Past the fishing boats Beyond.
The children were so sad.They tried to understand. They were left
looking out to sea
Saddest of all was their mother who looked but couldnít find what she
looking for
She was at one with the
sea, yet all alone.
The children waited on the shore everyday,
searching the horizon, waiting for their mother to return.
Their mermaid-mother had many adventures.
The dolphins made her heart fly
The seals made her laugh
The fish made her smile,
But nothing made the ache in her heart disappear.
I think of the process working with bitumen as positioning myself in language,
perhaps even as part of Cixousís project of ëwriting differenceí. Bitumen pattern
work appears almost like a ëtextí, an aesthetic form to transform thought, a beautiful
language for ëbecomingí and knowing oneself.
The use of multiple combinations of pronouns as titles for my drawings plays with
the constraints of language. I donít want all these pronouns to slip by unnoticed, I
want readers to think about and act on their conclusions. Working with pronouns,
and visual language I negotiate meaning, discarding a dream of unity to find
metaphors for difference, gender and representation.
Depending on the temperature and viscosity of the bitumen, it ëspinsí like treacle off
a spoon. The creation of the self, is made by ëspinning and being spun by storiesí. .
We create ourselves by the stories and narratives that we select from our histories.
Just as I have created myself from the constructs of my past, I create patterns as
narratives of myself (selves) spun from bitumen. The process of chance and
intention, plays with harmonies and dissonance that we find in our stories of ëselfí.
My subjectivity is split as I transform the surface of the canvas. Forms ëgrowí
around the figures, they seem like flowing natural forms, yet nature has gone wrong.
They are sometimes delicate and often deformed. In some way the inclusion of forms
and vegetation makes her become almost like an illustrated figure in a fairytale. I
enjoy the possibility that these works could be interpreted as fairytales with dark,
haunting possibilities.
Instead of a Greek classical tradition of self-knowledge, and finding my authentic
true self through old myths and narratives, I find myself creating new selves,
exploring the ëenigmas of self, not-self, and otherí, and with the invitation to
everyone to get to ëknow yourselvesí.
Capitalized pronouns are combined and fused together as titles for Liquid
Selves. They give no indication of the subject or hope of a narrative. As
they are the part of language that fixes subject position, the use of
pornouns seems to put in doubt the subject or ëwhoí of the work. De
Beauvoir starts her classic The Second Sex with ëIí / ëjeí , a statement of
existence, selfhood and the personal. In English ëIí is ëeyeí, writers have
played with the intimation of the role of the visual in the understanding and
representation of the self. Yet, ëIí is a fragment, a slippery word as it is
always part of ëweí. Feminist strategies use language to play with and deconstruct gender. It is this ëIí, de-constructed and robbed of its historical
specificity, that is used to question gendered identity, and explore the
possibility of multiple selves, as the construction and maintenance of ìIí
and ëselfí is only possible both with, and through others (you, they, weÖ..).
The complexity of ëselfí, with its psychoanalytic theories of self,
non-self and other, reveal problematic processes of ëbecomingí
for women, yet remain a pre-condition for ëself-transformationí. The
production and invention of personal narrative in forms around us, take us
outside of ourselves, transporting us through identification to the time and
place of another, aiding the ëtranscendence of the prison of the limitations
of the selfí,
Empathy, imitation, assimilation and projection produce
shared dreams and fictions that have transformative potential. Narrative
offers the interplay of multiple ideas, without offering a fixed position.
The surface lines of the bitumen used in drawing become partial
narratives, with the possibility of creating a frame or discussion about the
fragmentation of ëselfí. Inserting and asserting the body into inert matter
as signs, figures and space, can be a kind of transformation. Liquid Selves
could be seen as a performance of selves, encouraging us to know
ourselves, by creating,and re-creating ourselves. This is part of the
process of ëbecomingí in which we have the potential to negotiate our
reality through play.
rather than a ísymbolicí way (according to the etymology of each of these
words, ëdiabolicí corrupts and scatters, and ësymbolicí joins),
List of images:
p.12 NON-WE, (30x30cm), IT-ME, (30X25cm)

One day she swam out to sea. The water was