conversations

with  Vanessa Tiegs

“Death is humanity's final mystery, but menstruation is humanity's origin mystery. Lunar menstrual awareness birthed human consciousness.

~ Venus Geist, Vanessa Tiegs

Interviewer, Zhiwei Zhang, postgraduate student in visual arts at University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, asks questions of the heart and times.

 


ZZ:  With your many roles as a ballerina, coach, classical pianist, poet, interior designer, calligrapher, photographer and astrologer, what made you turn to painting? Why did you paint with your menstrual blood? Were you influenced by other artists or did you experience menstrual problems?

VT: To answer your last question, I did not experience menstrual problems. But, I suffered hormonal imbalances during and after menopause. Even though holistic alternative plant-based bio-identical hormone replacement therapy alleviates those symptoms, unfortunately bio-identicals are not covered by insurance and are expensive. My holistic health practitioner agrees it is a crime that a successful solution is suppressed in mainstream western medicine. Menstruation and menopause problems have not been addressed adequately.

To answer your first question, what made me turn to painting? When I lived in Amsterdam throughout the 90's decade, I frequented a women's book shop (Xanthippe Boekhandel Unlimited) on the Prinsenmarkt. There, I found Blood Bread & Roses: How Menstruation Created The World, Alchemy for Women and The Wise Wound. The most memorable authors I read were Penelope Shuttle, Judy Grahn, Gerda Lerner, Barbara Walker, Marija Gimbutas, Demetra George, Vicki Noble, Riane Eisler, Elinor Gadon, Virginia Bean-Rutter, Marion Woodman, and Lara Owens (still actively teaching today). 

VT:  In addition, I crossed paths with a remarkable forensic psychotherapist, Dr. Danica Anderson. An American-Serbian, Danica also resided in Holland throughout the 90's. I attended her open lecture at Webster's University in Leiden. Her research tied in the Neolithic symbol carvings that had been meticulously categorized in two lexicon textbooks by Marija Gimbutas: The Language of the Goddess and The Civilization of the Goddess. Danica invited me into her Kolo (circle) and we visited archaeological sites of Old Europe. She arranged our private tour of the famous Oracle chamber inside Malta's Hypogeum before it opened to the public; we walked through the remains of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete; and we descended into the underground cave where Zeus had been born.

VT:  Exploring Europe was awe-inspiring. I traveled to Spain, Prague, Stonehenge, Windsor, Avalon, the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia, Mykonos, Crete & Santorini, Paleolithic cave regions, castle villages in France and Germany, the Swiss Alps, the Matterhorn, and the Italian Renaissance cities, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Sienna. Now I sigh nostalgically remembering how I stood inside architectural wonders like Chartres Cathedral. 

VT:  In 1997, following a calligraphy commission, I tried my hand at free-style drawing with white ink on black paper. Breaking free from old techniques helped me to experiment three years later using a daring medium. I still remember an interviewer from the Taiwanese FHM Magazine asking me in 2009, "what inspired you, menstrual blood is a social suicide topic in every culture and era?"

VT:  My journey from dancing to painting was intellectually inspired. I relocated to San Francisco to pursue my Master's Degree in Women's Spirituality with Dr. Judy Grahn as my thesis advisor. While writing my thesis, I taught 2-hour workshops called Spiraling Moon every month. I also surveyed my students anonymously, including a few curious men, and uncovered what menstruation and the moon meant to them. 

VT:  In September 2000, the idea came to me to journal my cycles not only as circular calendars in coded colors, (which led me to invent the Lunarscope for Monthmatics) but also in free form imagery using my menstrual blood. Why? My graduate research was an examination of the effects of the menstrual taboo on women and society. So, I explored these themes on myself too. My menstrual journal entries came to be named Menstrala, rhyming with Mandala. Neither of my parents supported my unorthodox experiment. My terribly shocked father screamed at me, "all blood belongs inside the body!" Well, I ended up making a collection of 88 paintings over the course of three years which I began publishing monthly in September 2000, and which sparked a woman's grass-roots art movement by 2006.

VT:  Each creative experience I had prior to painting Menstrala played its role and coalesced into the next. The 2nd Act Adagios of ballets Giselle, La Sylphide, Swan Lake, and La Bayadere were expressions of romanticism. They are love stories portraying the heroine's ghost in her mysterious afterlife being visited by her love still living in the physical world. Ballet's maidens become Underworld Queens (Persephone/Hekate, Innana/Ereshkigal, Odette/Odile). Performing recitals of Schubert, Chopin and Brahms were also expressive outlets for lyricism and passion to flow, and like dance, music transcends language universally. 

VT:  Astrology revealed to me how sacred geometries of frequencies in my horoscope acted as magnetic hubs of energy. I explored Transcendental Karmic Astrology with Zsuzsanna Griga in Budapest who pointed out that lesser known feminine archetypes like Sedna, Eris (Trans-Neptunian Objects) and Pallas Athene, Ceres, Vesta, Lilith, and Medusa (asteroids) were strongly aspected in my natal horoscope. 

“Menstrala are matters of women's lunar time.”

Mandala journaling and writing a Master's thesis helped me connect the phases of the moon with the cycles of my menstrual dreams. I also realized that my name translates to Venus Geist, meaning the spirit intellect of Venus. I was expressing My Venus Geist. I said to myself, if cooking, pouring tea, bathing, lovemaking can be universal art forms, why not create an artform for menstruating? Almost half of humanity menstruates in secretive shame and hidden pain without sufficient support. Replacing the outdated status quo will be only a matter of time. It will take long though because Menstrala are matters of woman's lunar time. But already the art form is academically recognized as raising feminine consciousness, lifting the menstrual experience out of the dark and into the light, driving attention to women's health. 

Menstrala address two taboos. Death is humanity's final mystery, but menstruation is humanity's origin mystery. Lunar-menstrual awareness birthed human consciousness. This was the understanding I had reached after reading over 200 women's books, writing my Master's thesis, teaching hundreds of women, and creating Menstrala, which opened the pathway to a lunar-femcentric, cycle logical and psychological art movement. 

VT:  Perhaps the most important book to mention is Dragontime by Luisa Francia. This is a must read for those interested in the topic of menstruation. Think about it... bleeding for days, if not weeks, yet not dying (even though it feels close to it sometimes), is such a powerful and very strange feat. I think that if every man experienced menstruating between the age of 12 until 50 only once a year for a minimum of 24-hours, they would not pretend it's not happening, or go on with their daily routine ignoring the pain and inconvenience. They surely would not hide the event with shame, and certainly never be bullied or convinced they should laugh at jokes made about it. How many women have been confined by a taboo and not realized that its agenda divorces women from their natural innate powers? Dreaming during the menstrual phase is a true and powerful phenomenon.

ZZ: What was the biggest obstacle you faced using menstrual blood? How did you make a breakthrough? Any memorable stories? 

Preservation

VT: The biggest obstacle from the start was finding a way to preserve the works over time. My solution was to mix in acrylic gloss to preserve the red color and keep it from fading and also seal in DNA and any microbes. My 2nd preservation tip is to paint on gessoed masonite boards instead of paper or canvas. The smooth surface of the unbending board makes it easy to paint on and will keep the paintings from wrinkling in time.

A Memorable Story

As part of a social art experiment by a Navy crew member, prints of Timandra & Bulis were twice displayed on board the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf during the summer of 2003.



ZZ: The dynamics in Menstrala are excellent & agile, like a graceful dancer. Did you borrow some movements from ballet?  

 

VT:  Thank you. In a sense, I borrowed bravado. A strong rhythm can set the mood of a dance, or the tone of a painting. Emotions are ideal for the stage. Whether rehearsed or spontaneous, dancing and painting involve intense inner desires. Dancing, choreographing, composing, and painting use conviction to push past boundaries. Whatever emotion is driving the artist, an underlying hunger yearns for satisfaction, because not creating or performing is not an option, else there never be relief.

ZZ: Is social media a good or a bad thing for young artists? Does it have the power to facilitate real change?

VT:  In pre social media days, I "blogged" my menstrual paintings on LiveJournal.com, one of the first blog sites launched in 1999, before MySpace was founded, prior to LinkedIn and Facebook. Someone reposted my work on Metafilter.com, turning Menstrala into a controversial meme topic overnight, even drawing the attention of the Vatican on November 9, 2002, to my website. Then, I vaguely remember bumper stickers, "I AM the media and YOU ARE the media." So, my answer is yes, it does have the power to facilitate real change. Social media today is a basic necessity for young political artists because it opens a direct line to the audience and it builds networks. Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo didn't have the luxury of broadcasting straight to their audience or building networks; they became widely famous posthumously due to critics' reviews and museum curators choosing their works. Today, the website, or webfeed delivering content, is the third party mining all the valuable data of the viewers' likes, dislikes, shares, and comments, and profiting from the monetization of that data through ads and surveillance. We have to remember that today's visual artists now compete with artificial intelligence dominating electronic posting by reassembling digital images and generating bot comments, views, and likes. 

ZZ: The word "feminism" is heavily stigmatized, and any time you talk about feminism on the internet, you get trolled, especially in China, where to say you're a feminist is to marginalize yourself, and no one will ever come to you to do an exhibition. How do you explain the true meaning of "feminism" to people who question it? What gives you the courage to keep saying you are a feminist?

VT:  You ask the right question, but I do not label myself a feminist. Instead, I use my own word to describe my view: lunar-femcentric. The definitions of feminism differ greatly across generations. My Lola said she was a feminist for being "kind, caring, polite, and nurturing," but my mother detested the word because it conjured up competitive women working men's jobs and demanding equal rights. When I was an undergrad attending a women's college in the '80s, a feminist was a woman who thought independently of our patriarchally built system. That definition soon evolved into feminist women not needing men because they believed they could do everything themselves. There is also feminist Goddess spirituality, popular in the mid-80's and 90's, but now in a backseat. The current wave of feminism interchanges women as men, and men as women. I call myself a lunar-femcentric because I identify with values that respect the energetic workings of lunar nodes, phases, and cycles. If a word is not working for you, as so many words have ambiguous meanings, then invent a new word that further refines the definition you are looking for.

 



ZZ: Years have passed, but the same social problems keep on happening. In all corners of the world, the oppressed and the exploited are always there, so as an artist, what can you do for them? What role can art play in social issues?  

 

VT:  That's humanity's greatest tragedy, isn't it? The flaw of our civilization is that the suffering of the exploited and oppressed has yet to be extinguished after all this time in recorded history. We are still healing from wars and mass genocides. In western societies, we actively take part as thinking, speaking and growing participants in a world that prefers to ignore violence and crimes against humanity. So, contributing to humanity goes further than articulating a spiritual vision. It entails taking action by turning knowledge into a societal system that will protect and promote prosperity through clean environments, healthy nutritious food, safe shelters, and adequate homesteading for families, communities, and co-existing creatures and economies. Just as humans would not exist without the biome of insects, the world would take a much different course if human memories of life's meaning and substance combined with efficient solutions for productive living, did not exist. Political works of art will either depict what is frankly missing, or emphasize what is painfully wrong. 

What common thread unites the privileged with the oppressed? What comes to mind for me is bodily pain that absolutely needs alleviating, such as hunger, disease, aging, child birthing, and menstruating. Apparently not too much art focuses on these topics. It's painful to acknowledge them. But at the foundation of life, cycles keep us connected to our food sources, our health, and the life processes of existing within this Saturn-Moon matrix of birth, life, degeneration, grief, death, and renewal. The stereotype of Saturn (Kronos) is Father of Time, Grim Reaper, God of Karma, Builder of Structure, and Keeper of Rules. The stereotype of Luna (Selene) is the Triple Goddess in her three aspects of virgin, mother & crone who gives birth, nurtures, and cyclically renews herself. Notice how the lunar cycle with its waxing and waning phases of 29-1/2 nights fits relatively into the Saturn cycle of 29-1/2 years. Also, the four seasons follow the sequential agricultural order through the modalities and elements depicted in the zodiac (the sun's ecliptic path through the tropics) and apply to every type of cycle, from breathing to sleeping, to menstruating. 

Can original works of art have the power to collect the amount of energy and value needed to spark a lasting revolution in consciousness that would activate life-changing improvements for peoples in all cultures? If artists can introduce a wave of new consciousness that ushers in something meaningful for everyone, where is it, and when will it arrive? What will the new world with a new collective consciousness be like? Will it even vaguely resemble the world we know? Maybe these questions can inspire art that proposes a new way of life? Looking at the latest visual art being endlessly generated by A.I. shows how another world is forming within our world. A.I. art compiles digitized new versions of previously existing data that was never presented before in this manner. A.I.'s interpretation of our speech, and now our unspoken thoughts too, is pre-automated programming. It is providing us with something new even though it is reflecting something old within us. How does this improve our world?

 



ZZ: Whether it's painting or any other artistic medium, there are problems of effective expression between language and thought. How do you see solving these problems?  

 

VT:  Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Incorporate all three. Essentially, they bridge emotional (empathetic and pathetic) experiences with logical comprehension through symbols, images and language. Will you create something that will survive long after you so the next generations can process the meanings and find the emotional value behind it? What drives you to create? Your method of ordering chaos, cosmetics or cosmetikos, (ordering the cosmos), or your narration of your personal spiritual human experience? Blood is a medium that holds the power of the life-force. Then, is the life-force still present in the blood once it is no longer under your skin? I suspect the life-force in the blood continues outside the vessel. This is odd to ponder. If we do not believe we represent a form of intelligence, then no need to ask or answer questions about life, death, spirit, and nature. Let all just be. The truth is each one of us must follow our own heart, and if that cannot be done, then we are not free, but have become experiments for those with power to control our intelligence.

 

 



ZZ: How can you survive in the commercial market and stay true to yourself? For the artist, there is pressure to be an activist, to send a message to society, and to think about how the work will affect certain political changes. So the question for every artist to ask is: how can my work convey a certain social, political message? How will I adapt to the future?

VT:   Viewers decide art's meaning and value. The art speaks for itself. I quote Marshall McCluhan in the introduction to my website because the message is in the medium, not in my explanations, titles, or style. While those things play a role in delivering ethos, pathos & logos, the purpose of Menstrala is to see how viewers relate to the medium of menstrual blood as depicted by those who silently deal with it. Remember, it is not violently spilled but is women's natural cyclical blood sacrifice for the entire human race. While all the world faces death and says good-bye to loved ones in time, only half sees the monthly renewal process - bleeding for days without dying in order to continue procreating. It wasn't my intention for Menstrala to enter the commercial market. The originals are not for sale, though a handful were purchased early on before they were featured in documentaries. 

Adapting to the future will depend on what future comes. I envision a partnership based future, lunar-cyclically and seasonally integrating holistically with nature and staying aware of frequencies, including those passing across the dome of fixed stars at night. I have concluded as an astromythologer, that we are on Earth to learn how to best express our unique stardom, the star dome or time-space map of the stars under which we were born. I think we already know the stars' stories, all the mythological archetypes deep within ourselves and lying dormant in the shadows. I think all consciousness is a spiritual relationship to everything existing outside of our magnetic field. We are electromagnetic creatures. So, we have the innate ability to magnetize anything we so desire. The interesting part is learning how to best do it. We are energy sources for intelligence, creativity, and emotional substance. When art is inspired by human experiences and shaped by universal values, it's only a matter of time before the art finds its way home. 

Zhiwei Zhang, those were some deep and mind-opening questions for our times. I look forward to reading your graduate dissertation and I wish your career great success.

Best wishes! 

Vanessa

May 2024

Montreal's CKUT 90.3 FM Radio interview, 2009.

Part I can be listened to here.

A Rock'n Art Scene

In 2009, rock star Dave Navarro, the guitarist from Jane's Addiction and The Red Hot Chili Pepper Band, visited the artist's San Francisco studio where they filmed a Menstrala art collab.

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