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Catherine Elwes
At the Slade Elwes studied under Stuart Brisley, a performance artist who explored endurance and catharsis using visceral materials such as bodily fluids including blood, vomit and spit.

Elwes gravitated toward Brisley's studio because there, she said, "you could do all things experimental, performance and video." She did, however, feel the strain of a male-dominated art school environment, and one of her earliest works was an ironic do-it-yourself manual called A Plain Woman's Guide to Her First Performance (1979).

The manual consists of double-page spreads of text and images. Photographs document Elwes performing a rather inelegant striptease, page by page discarding elements of her outfit. The accompanying text that complements each image is an ironic emulation of the mythology of the performance artist. For example, one image portrays the artist awkwardly pulling off a sock, accompanied by the statement, 'BE AWARE OF THE IMAGE YOU ARE CREATING. POWERFUL IMAGERY PROVIDES THE FOUNDATION FOR GOOD DOCUMENTATION'. Elwes has always been aware of the power of the image that the artist creates in the traces left behind from performances. The use of striking images, often derived from the artist's own body, would feature throughout her career, first in the form of performances and later in her video work.

While A Plain Woman's Guide to Her First Performance may be a humorous critique of male performance art, there was a serious side to the work. Elwes was parodying the prescriptive conventions of performance art in the vein of the Viennese Actionists, who staged controversial events in the late 1960s and 1970s. In Elwes' piece the strip-tease act is simultaneously interrogated - the epitome of sexual provocation - which feminism then saw as at least partly responsible for the objectification of women. A further layer of meaning may be less recognizable today: criticism was leveled at female performance artists like Elwes by certain academic feminists who saw live work as tantamount to strip tease, based on the view that the female body was over-determined by patriarchal precedents. Elwes has said, "Like Carolee Schneemann, I was trying to find out whether it was possible to be a naked woman and still create aesthetic and political meaning."

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