HIGH STEAKS is no doubt an eye-catching piece in the VAULT Festival 2023 programme. ELOINA is putting together a show by which she hands two pieces of raw meat from her labia. The show is a queer clown-fest, putting together a celebration of bodies with clowning designed to uncensor our most sensitive parts and reveal our feelings and attitudes towards them. We sat down with ELOINA to talk all things labiaplasty, labia-shaming, nudity, visibility and Vermouth.
You can catch HIGH STEAKS at VAULT Festival between Jan 24th and 27th at 18:25. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hi Eloina! Your show is a riotous rebellion against cosmetic Labiaplasty – tell us what inspired you to bring this show to VAULT.
“Hey there! This is an interesting question. Festivals ask you to write the copy for your show so early on that the show melds into something different entirely by the time it’s on stage. In the beginning this show felt like a ‘rebellion’ against labiaplasty (the cosmetic surgery to make the labia smaller/more symmetrical). I felt super angry that this surgery was being given to people as young as 9 on the NHS who had been told by parents/doctors/porn that their labia wasn’t right. But actually, through developing the show, I realised this is fundamentally NOT a rebellion against the surgery itself. I am extremely conscious that there are many reasons why this surgery is wanted & it’s important to note that people who are considering it/who have had it should never feel like they are wrong. It is their body.”
“What this show rebels against are the patriarchal, educational, medical & capitalist structures which convince us that we need surgeries like this. Which tell us our bodies are not right as they are. Which tell us that we need to butcher parts of ourselves to be wanted. All of these things fed into me wanting this surgery when I was 10 years old. The love & openness of my friends & mother, realising I am queer & beginning to make work that decensors the body, made me realise how magical my body is as it is. Which is why I can make this show now. “
“I made a 10 minute version of the show in 2019 based on my experience, expecting it to be pretty niche. Yet the feedback was multiple labia owners telling me they had researched & asked their parents for money for this surgery. And realising how universal labia-shaming is, is why I have made this show. I want to open these conversations between friends, parents, teachers, medical professionals in order to guarantee that vulva diversity is visible in schools & friendships. That our vulvas are not monstrous or something to be ashamed of. That we can be.”
High Steaks is a very daring piece of performance art – you’re going to be performing on stage with two beef-steaks hanging from your labia. Tell us about the atmosphere and energy you’re hoping to create in the room.
“So, firstly, safety. I want the audience to feel safe with me immediately when I walk onto stage…which is where my clowning comes in. I act as if me being naked & the beef steaks hanging from me are nothing to even mention. That way, my nude body becomes something they forget about. I want the audience to know that we are in for a wild ride together for the next hour & that it will get uncomfortable because we are speaking about things we don’t usually in public, yet they are in the comfort that I’ve got them the whole way. That I will put their seatbelts on & stop the rollercoaster when I know they need it to be stopped. “
“I want the room to have an understanding of the high stakes I take to perform HIGH STEAKS. By performing nude in order to uncensor the body, I put myself at risk of the wrong kind of people seeing my work for sexual reasons. This is why I have multi-layered safeguarding practices in place to keep myself, my audience & the space safe.”
“The energy in the room is always one of absolute joy & collective celebration. Some people come up to me after & say how much they wanted to get on stage with me & share their own vulva with me & the room to increase vulva diversity visibility & that is exactly what this show is trying to do!”
“Just to say though, no audience members will ever be asked to get naked… That’s a whole other risk assessment I don’t have time to fill out haha!”
You raise the very pertinent point in the show of bodily celebration – how can people celebrate their vulvas, in your mind?
“Fundamentally, as mentioned, being open (when is safe to do so). Don’t shy away from being naked with your children & friends. Start conversations about any concerns & hear how many other people you share that with! Tell partners that their vulvas look nice.”
“But before that, be open with yourself & your own. Look at yourself in the mirror & find folds & crevices & blemishes you never knew existed. Make friends with yours”.
“And on a wider scale, increasing visibility of vulva diversity. School textbooks only show your tubes & wombs inside, but what about the outside?!? The more varied vulvas we see the more we know that ours are ‘normal’. Which porn often doesn’t help with by showing small, tucked in labia, which are beautiful but 70% of labia owners have labia that are not tucked in & they’re beautiful too!!! The more varied vulvas we see the more we know that there is no ‘normal’.”
“Here are some places to see more vulva diversity:”
- Labia Library: www.labialibrary.org.au
- Flip Through My Flaps: https://www.comfortableinmyskin.com.au/blog/flip-through-my-flaps
- @thisisavulva on instagram: Run by the wonderful Jo, this is all things vulva! Jo runs Labia Lessons (in-person & online) & offers a free monthly email reminder to check your vulva!
- The Gynodiversity Project: http://www.gynodiversity.com/index.html
- the vagina bible by dr jen gunter (book)
- womanhood by laura dodsworth (book)
- @lydiareeves_artist on instagram
- The Vulva Gallery: https://www.thevulvagallery.com/the-vulva-gallery
How has the process been of creating this show been for you personally? Have you discovered anything about your own relationship to your body (that you’re willing to share!)?
“As mentioned above, I discovered that making my work has been a huge push for me to love my body. If I am uncensoring it in front of hundreds of strangers, then I have to love it first to get my message across. I’ve come to see it as a fleshy vessel which allows me to live, rather than something aesthetic to be quality checked by people who are not me. “
“I have realised that if I had had Labiaplasty when I was 10, I would have never found out how much I love mine now.”
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT 23, what are you most excited for?
“Just sharing this show with people who it can change lives for. Some people look at themselves for the first time in a mirror after seeing this show which develops into a journey of relinquishing shame during sexual partnerships. Which I just think is the most joyous journey to come out of this!”
Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?
“VERMOUTH ON THE ROCKS. Not everybody’s thing on first look but when you try it, you understand why it’s so layered, carefully made & delicious. mmm.”