Artist Millie Brown’s performance with Lady Gaga at SXSW has had a lot of tongues wagging these past few days — including her own. You know, since she purposefully vomited colors all over the pop icon during her
ARTPOP-packed Austin debut.
The messy display has earned its share of Web-time over the ensuing week, drawing criticism from the likes of Demi Lovato, who said that the performance glorified bulimia — criticism that Brown roundly negates.
“I can understand why people would make that association, but my performance really is not a statement about eating disorders themselves,” Brown told MTV News. “It’s like using my body to express myself. I think a lot of people understand that I’m not trying to punish myself and my body in that way.”
“I obviously do not intend to promote bulimia,” she added. “I think a lot of people who actually have suffered from eating disorders have found my performance very liberating — have come up to me personally and expressed that. So I think it has actually affected a lot of people in a positive way rather than negative.”
Lovato, after seeing Brown do her thing on stage, felt differently. “Sad… As if we didn’t have enough people glamorizing eat disorders already. Bottom line, it’s not ’cool’ or ’artsy’ at all,” Lovato tweeted. “Would you let someone bring a needle and shoot up on you? Addiction is addiction.”
She then called herself a “little monster,” affirming her Gaga fandom.
It's not "shade" and it's not "hate". But someone has to come forward and say it and I'll take the heat for it. ✌️
— demetria lovato (@ddlovato) March 14, 2014
Although Lovato dismisses Brown’s work — saying, “Putting the word ART in it isn’t a free card to do whatever you want without consequences” — the artist has been working in her medium for a decade now, and has long been entrenched in the performance art scene.
For her, her work is less about body image and more about body power.
“I wanted to use my body to create a really raw performance and use my body to paint from the inside out to create something that truly came from within,” she said.
Brown first started performing her “vomiting the rainbow” routine in Berlin in 2004. “That was the first time I actually made myself vomit before and it was this new experience,” she said. “And the performance was just so powerful that it’s something that I wanted to explore further.”
When it comes to creating these vomituous pieces, Brown has worked out a process over the years. She doesn’t eat for two days beforehand and swallows a mixture of food dye and soy milk (she’s vegan) in order to create the bright colors she spews onto canvases and, in Gaga’s case, people.
For Brown, the whole deal is art — even the not-eating-for-two-days.
“Leading up to the performance is what I find interesting, the actual process of that,” she said. “The canvas or the performance itself is almost like the climax of this long, solitary performance, which I experience alone.”
She tries to limit performances to one per month, so as to give her body a rest in between shows.
SXSW was not the first time Brown collaborated with Gaga, having worked on a video for her Monster Ball tour. However, it was her turn on the Texas stage that really got people talking.
“I think a lot of people didn’t actually realize it was real,” Brown said of her work. “I think that seeing it live, it had so much more of a powerful impact. I wasn’t expecting so much to come from this, but I think it’s pretty amazing that so many people are talking about performance art.”
When it comes to future collaborations with Mother Monster, Brown isn’t sure what’s in store; the two hooking up in Austin was a last-minute decision.
“I really like working with Lady Gaga because she really understands performance art,” Brown said. “And I think we understand each other.”