Mz. Frankenstein

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 22 min 55 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

The documentation of Mz. Frankenstein opens with a black screen paired with the sounds of an audience chatting and laughing audibly. In the background of this soundscape, a pre-recorded audio tape of a man’s voice gives hypnotic relaxation instructions in a trance-inducing drone. The title “Mz. Frankenstein” appears on the screen and the chatter fades away with the title, revealing the set in the Grand Luxe Hall: a large-scale backdrop of a mirrored photograph of a female reclining nude. Other images that appear throughout the performance range from period photographs of conventionally beautiful and eroticized women to goddess carvings from ancient civilizations, Rorschach tests, statistics and facts about the beauty industry and cosmetic surgery. The work’s juxtaposition of image, text and performance raise questions about the cultural, clinical, and objectified representations of women.

At the edge of the stage, a woman stands at a podium, switches on her headlamp, and reads from an infomercial-like script promoting the “Relax-a-cizer.” In the same sterile and prescriptive tone as the previous narration, she describes the Relax-a-cizer’s innovative and miraculous ability to assist the user in losing weight without having to exercise. During this introductory spiel, Mars enters onstage in a lab coat and an exaggeratedly grotesque fake nose, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, gauze wrapped around her head. Mars writes an analysis of her personal health condition on a chalkboard in pink. “Slow metabolism,” “over 40,” “artist,” she writes, before moving to centre stage where she lets the lab coat fall to the floor. Mars stands before the audience in a black exercise leotard with strings of butter hanging from her waist and her neck. She begins to perform a jig, using scissors to snip at the air, revelling in humorous exaggeration and self-parody. Afterwards, Mars demonstrates how to use the Relax-a-cizer by applying and tightening the straps around her body that are linked up to a portable suitcase-sized machine. She follows the machine’s instructions—a seemingly painful, intrusive, and body altering process—until she finds herself entirely bound, twisted and contorted by the machinery, a metaphor for the artist’s own confinement within idealized societal expectations. When the machine is finally turned on, it somewhat predictably short-circuits, appearing to electrocute Mars. The machine is rendered defunct and Mars releases herself from the constraints, proceeding to deliver a frank and sincere PSA. She asks the viewer to imagine the gender roles reversed, placing the male body at the centre of this bodily modification: “Imagine this: penis implants, penis augmentation, testicular silicone injections…to correct asymmetry, saline injections with the choice of three sides, surgery to alter the angle of erection, to lift the scrotum and make it tight…imagine the risks.”

Mars began her career as a performance artist in 1974 and continues as an active contributor to feminist performance art discourse, education, and practice.[1] When speaking about her process, Mars describes beginning each work with an image which is then realized through a series of events that subsequently animate and build the performance into existence.[2] Most of her performances use multimedia, are short in length, non-linear, and place feminist perspectives and women’s lived experiences at the centre of the narrative.[3] Mars also notes the importance of imposed restraints within her work, which manifest as both conceptual and physical limitations.[4] After the performance at Western Front, Mz. Frankenstein was additionally made into a video production. Since 1995, Mars has worked as a Senior Lecturer and Program/Graduate Supervisor in the Visual Studies department at the University of Toronto and the University of Toronto Scarborough.[6]

Camera: Charles Pitts
Technicians: Peter Courtemanche, Robert Kozinuk
Sound: Peter Courtemanche

1 – Sawchuk, Kim. “Tanya Mars: Enthusiasm, Unbridled.” In Caught in the Act: An Anthology of Performance Art by Canadian Women, edited by Tanya Mars and Johanna Householder, 324-34. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2004.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Ibid.
4 – Ibid.
5 – Mars, Tanya. “Tanya Mars CV.” Tanya Mars. Accessed April 2018.

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Original Archive Entry:

A video production adapted from this performance was made, entitled Mz. Frankenstein.

The following text is taken from Front Magazine vol. V, no. 1, p. 13, September/October 1993:

Mz. Frankenstein is a short, non-glamorous performance about the body, science and ethics. It is largely imagistic, And the focus of the activity is the hook-up and demonstration of a revolutionary reducing machine called “The Relax-a-cisor.” This machine was manufactured in the United States in the 1950s and was sold to women for home use. I forgot to mention that it is an electrical device. To me, this machine conjures up many terrifying thoughts, which I have played out with humour in the piece. There is also a wealth of statistical information which I have gleaned from a variety of feminist texts such as The Beauty MythFace Value, and books on plastic surgery. In Ms. Frankenstein I attempt to involve the viewers by forcing them to publicly acknowledge their own perceptions of their bodily imperfections. The question is, how far are you prepared to go to get rid of them? – Tanya Mars