The Screech-owl, Screeching Loudly

A behind the scenes account of the making of the fourth tableau…

When Gretchen and I were discussing how we would depict Lilith’s period of darkness, we realized that this particular phase provided us the most freedom to explore visually. Not much is written about this time, but, while accounts vary significantly, they agree that Lilith flees to her cave.  There she suffers alone for centuries before giving birth to her offspring, which are considered demons by patriarchal societies. We think this part of the story deserves more focus.

This period places Lilith in a chthonic wilderness untouched by man. It is a time of great suffering caused by her rebellion against the diminishment of her integrity.  We knew that this scene would have to show her fortitude as she struggles against her disintegration. This is also the time where, according to hebraic tradition, she gives birth to demons, only to then watch hundreds of them die as part of her curse for leaving Adam.

We knew we wanted to depict her as mother, though we do not believe that what she was giving birth to were literal demons.  Rather, she engendered inner knowledge; therefore, this isn’t human birth. 

We have already suggested her ties to serpentine imagery in the second tableau of this series, in which Lilith rejects Adam and begins her flight.  We wanted to reinforce her connection to serpentine symbolism by having her give birth to serpents. In some accounts, her time spent in suffering is also the time when Lilith couples with the “slant serpent’, Samael.  Beyond that, in many mythologies the serpent is a symbol for wisdom. In hinduism the “serpent power”, Kundalini, is the mothering of intelligence, an awakening to spiritual maturation symbolized by a coiled serpent.

From the outset of this project, we agreed that it was very important for us to forgo the use of digital manipulation in the final photographs. We would stay true to using analogue techniques for everything other than documentation. Because of this, the births could not be faked. We discussed several ways to do this and ultimately we were drawn to the image of snakes protruding from Lilith’s abdomen.  The imagery is similar to the live births of various viper species.

The best way we could do this was to temporarily place snake sculptures subdermally in the area. This is not a new concept, subdermal implants for embellishment have been in existence since the early 90s thanks to body modification pioneer, Steve Haworth. This is also not a new concept in the realm of performance art, as I was informed by body modification artist Samppa Von Cyborg. Although I have very little experience with this particular form of body art, I knew who I wanted to work with.  I approached Brian Decker, a body art pioneer in his own right and friend of several years. We discussed what we wanted to accomplish with the sculptures and he made suggestions based on being able to do this as safely as possible. Brian is highly regarded around the world for the quality of his work and his sterilization guidelines. There was no doubt that I was in good hands. Had he felt that the risk was too high, we would  not proceed.

We agreed on using pyrex glass sculptures. Pyrex is a very strong glass able to withstand high temperatures, which is necessary in order to sterilize them for implantation. The strength of the glass would also allow Brian to use them to elevate the skin for easier insertion.

I created a cast of my abdomen on which I drew the general shape that I wanted for the snakes. We wanted the snakes to look natural on the body, so the cast provided the sculptor with a way to mold the snakes to fit with the contours around my navel.  I took this cast to Sean of Duxglass, along with some specifications as to the size and colors to use. The snakes would be black with white eyes, 7mm-10mm thickness, and modeled after Vipera Aspis, an Asp/ Viper. Sean really brought the snakes to life.

The procedure of inserting the snakes under my skin was done in a controlled environment rather quickly; and immediately after Numi Empire finished makeup for the scene. The external part of the snakes was then glued onto the body for added security. We knew that we wanted to move quickly so that the wounds would not stay open for very long. Altogether, including implanting procedure, the photoshoot, the removal of the sculptures, and sutures, the whole process was under an hour. We are very pleased with the results.

The following video is a glimpse of the implantation procedure, as well documentation of the photo shoot itself. NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH!! This video is published for documentary purposes only. We do not recommend or suggest that anyone should attempt anything similar or related. This procedure was performed by a trained body artist with several decades of experience on a very informed woman with several years of experience in the body arts, over the age of legal consent.

Lilith: Myth to Flesh is a collaborative project undertaken by performance artist Luna Duran and photographer Gretchen Heinel.  By undergoing ordeals of the flesh, we aim to understand and communicate the sacred and transformative pain which Lilith endured on her journey from human to goddess.