The everlasting and continual question: What is art?
The boundaries of this question are only pushed further by controversial London artist Millie Brown, also known as the Vomit Painter. Her newest and most famous work “Nexus Vomitus” is for sale and valued at $2,400.
Millie began her vomit technique in 2006, when her art collective !WOWOW! was asked to be a part of an exhibition in Berlin. Millie, unsure of her craft at the time, only brought brightly colored soymilk and an empty canvas and decided to ingest the medium and regurgitate it on the spot.
Since beginning her avant-garde artistic technique, she has made a living traveling the globe performing in films, short pieces, and in front of audiences. She has collaborated with—or rather, barfed on—Lady Gaga on a video interlude for Gaga’s “Monster Ball” tour. She has also worked with ShowStudio, Nick Knight, Ruth Hogben, Gareth Pugh, Matthew Stone, Diane Pernet, Griffin, Jez Tozer, and Adham Faramawy.
Millie states that she doesn’t “find the vomit vulgar” because “there’s no food in [her] stomach, as [she doesn’t] eat two days prior to performing”—I’m sure that’s healthy for her body, and very educational by reflecting anorexic and bulimic behaviors that surround body-centric issues many people face today. However, when specifically asked about these unhealthy endorsements, Millie states that her performances were “never a conscious comment on bulimia; it was more about using [her] body to create art in a way that challenges people’s perception of beauty.” Her goal was “to create something real and something [she] couldn’t control, tapping into primal urges,” and Millie states “in no way [does she] want to promote bulimia.”
I find it hard to believe that she does not recognize her glamorization of a disease that deluges and destroys many peoples’ lives. I appreciate her redefinition of beauty, and it is necessary in today’s self-conscious society, but I find this a step in the wrong direction. Her fasting and puking for the sake of art are unhealthy behaviors to demonstrate, and it is unfair to expect the younger generations to distinguish unhealthy behaviors from artistic preparations.
Millie Brown defends herself by stating her “work evokes us to think about a disease that affects so many people” in a way that “rais[es] some awareness.” I find this an absurd way to spread awareness about such an important topic that impacts large populations. Additionally, though it’s her prerogative, she is not very “concerned about the effects on [her] health, as it’s not something [she does] every day.” How enlightening.
She recognizes what she is doing and shrugs off criticism and well-being for the sake of art. Her impact on contemporary art may become legendary—who knows; however, for now she is glamorizing bulimic behaviors and giving an artistic allure to a harmful, destructive act. I find Millie Brown’s contribution to art as bulimic devaluation with a pinch of Two-Girls-One-Cup–style publicity grabbing.
As Leo Tolstoy reminds us in What is Art (1896), art is relevant to every aspect of the human condition and must embrace any human activity. So I pose the question: Is Millie Brown a revolutionary artist or just a part of an anti-mainstream, hipster-focused society that features unhealthy lifestyle choices just to simply make people’s stomachs sick for the sake of estranged beauty? Or is she degrading the struggle of bulimic populations? Or is she just suffering for her art like every artist? A turn-of-the-century Jackson Pollock? Whatever the answer, this woman in high heels manages to receive various reactions, including “nervous laughter, cheering, [and] people having to leave.”
What’s your reaction?
—Jacqueline Freedman is a summer intern at About-Face. She’s currently working toward a BA in Media Studies at Scripps College.