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Or Williams: A Surgeon of Images

Or Williams is a multidisciplinary artist based in the UK. Her work incorporates a low tech imagery and aesthetic, constructs of Digital and New-Media watercolor painting, photography and performance. Her recent series Dystopia of the mind is a part of an ongoing research which challenges the role of the middle aged women within society, in particular pursuing an ideal of perfection that constantly changes through online performances, video and photography.

It's not the haircut that makes you look old (2020), Or Williams,

from Dystopia of the mind series

What was the main inspiration behind 'Dystopia of the mind' (2020) series?

Or Williams: This volume of work, in the form of ״diary entries״ reflects my mental state during the chaotic period of COVID-19 outbreak, in particular the panic and disinformation that arose in the beginning of lockdown. This ongoing work constructed of 60 images continues to develop as I create more visual entries. In my work I challenge the conventions associated with the concept of perfection by creating a visual aid through which I criticise the role of the middle aged woman in society. Whereas previous layers of my work focus on the physical aspects, ‘Dystopia of the mind’ focuses on the mental state of the middle aged women, in particular during this challenging time.

You could be described as a surgeon of images. How did you discover this style?

O.W.: Having gone through surgical procedures myself, I am familiar with the concept of cutting open and revealing the “flesh” underneath the surface. This often comes to mind during my creative process as I begin working with an initial image and I slowly reveal the under layers and depths of it.

Removing huge chunks of data from a digital file is somewhat similar to removing organs or tissues from one’s body: Both result in glitching and distorting of the original body or file. In an analogy to life, I perform surgeries on images, corrupting and rebuilding them at the same time. I insert new content and take away the unnecessary.

In my work I digitally manipulate analogue images using new media tools. I first paint the image using watercolours. I then construct and deconstruct the initial analogue image and create multiple digital layers, I continue to transform the image until it becomes organic again.

Would you agree that every artist, who reflects on societal and political issues, in a way, is a 'surgeon' of society?

O.W.: History has a long tradition of using art as a means to raise and criticise social, political or personal concerns. It is therefore logical that artists will use their own way and language to respond to the world in which they live and to the matters that are close to their hearts.

'Dystopia of the mind' (2020) series focuses on the ideal of perfection. What, in your opinion, is the ideal for a middle-aged woman in modern society and why is it dystopian?

O.W.: ‘Dystopia of the mind’ is another layer through which I challenge the conventions associated with the concept of perfection. Throughout history women were forced to fit a certain form both physically and in their (lack of) inspiration. From the depiction of Venus as a symbol of beauty to the various images of fertility, from being subjects of desire to fulfilling the status of the “mother and wife”. Since the feminist revolution women began occupying positions that were previously associated with men and a middle-aged woman considered to be successful if she met the criteria of either a “bitch” boss (for example the film “The Devil Wears Prada”) or not looking “their age”. In many ways, I feel that Covid-19 pandemic pushed women back into the traditional roles of house wives and mothers, creating a dissonance between their self-value and the new reality. In terms of every day engagement with other people, public appearance and sense of self, the idea of perfection has been reduced to how well women manage to maintain their households or adapt to the new life.

What is the implication behind the title ‘It’s not the haircut that makes you look old’?

O.W.: This image criticises the idea embedded by the beauty industry and the various modes of advertisement that a woman is worthy when she is in the peak of her youth and looks a certain way. This idea often leads to a conflict between the way a woman wishes to be seen by others and the way she sees herself when looking in the mirror. My work exists on the fine line between the two ways of perception firstly in the analogue image that is very naïve and simple through the developed layers of “content” and depth that represent the informed woman that is always more than the way she looks.

Global pandemic took a toll on most artists and significantly influenced their work. What would you say were the main challenges for you, an artist with over 30 years of experience?

O.W.: Covid-19 pandemic forced me to change the way I work altogether: From working primarily with high scale installations and performance and deeply relying on the participation of the public and their engagement with the work, I moved to creating within the framework of an A5 sketchbook and a mobile phone. I believe the biggest challenge was to find the place and medium that will allow me to continue producing work and maintain my well-being.

Every path I took left a mark on me (2020), Or Williams

Is the role of a wife and a mother prominent in your work? Why?

O.W.: Being a wife and a mother is a given condition, one that cannot be ignored especially when working around the family and each member’s needs. Although the role of a wife and a mother does not immediately pop out, the feelings surrounding it are not hidden. Fear, anger, pride and criticism are all visible through the texts and imagery, although revealing them demands more than a quick glimpse.

Finally, what would you say is the best thing about being a female creator?

O.W.: The greatest thing about being a female artist is being a part of the legacy of great female artists that opened the door and showed us the way. Seeing not very long ago women were discouraged from taking any form of artistic aspirations, I feel privileged for having the opportunity to not only create art but to also live off it. Working within the richness of a technological environment, which was predominantly occupied by men is also a great achievement in creating equality.

To contact Or Williams:

INSTAGRAM @beatricevonmillhouse

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