Plastic(ene) Surgery

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I shortened the legs, but when Chantelle was attached to a base, she still appeared to have a body too long and thin, and oddly narrow shoulders.

Once she was adapted to more standard proportions, I fleshed her out with red plasticine. All good, til with an inhuman flexibility of the bones, she ever so slowly started to lean to the side. The gauge of wire I'd used was only strong enough for the smaller model I'd originally planned. So I gave her a leaning post, whose position disappointingly precluded any chance of substantial butt implants.

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(Interesting that a cosmetic surgery candidate is known as a 'patient', which implies illness. I would say 'client'.)

I gave Chantelle small, flat, drooping breasts and a fat stomach and thighs. Clearly a candidate for a mummy lift. Actually I felt I'd made a self-portrait of how I'll look once my breast implants are removed (which I'm currently planning). The feedback I got was that she wasn't fat enough, so I added some girth and made her thighs meatier.

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The face came out looking somewhat ascetic and gaunt. She had hollow cheeks and eyes, a lined brow, drooping jowl, and a square jaw. Also, I gave her the kind of nose I like – big and arched, semitic/ascetic-looking. (see above) I've been looking at a lot of 'before and after' surgery pics, and one sticks in my mind, reminding me of a girl at school who had the same kind of work done. She had an elegant, strong and distinctive nose expensively shaved down into an inoffensive button; 'pretty,' characterless and safe-looking: non-threatening. I wanted to embody the sadness of that story, and gave my client a  strong distinctive nose, which I would later brutally cut down.

I'd planned to work further on the models before beginning the performance, intending to publicly focus only on the 'surgery'. Leaving for Milton Keynes sooner than I'd thought meant I arrived with the figures at an earlier stage than I'd hoped. They looked a bit rough. Perhaps they were nervous.

After a lengthy set-up period I had a real sense that this was the moment I'd been waiting for. I started to slice off Chantelle's stomach fat with a knife, and although in real life it would be done by sucking out liquid fat through a tube, this brutal representation of being 'under the knife' seemed horribly apt.

Did I gain satisfaction from so easily giving Chantelle the fashionable body shape I spent my life working hard to achieve, and always represented in art?

To my surprise, not at all. I'd started to like her lumpy body; it had character. She looked like a woman.


My 3 hour durational performance at Milton Keynes Museum as part of FBI+'s Operation Herbody focused on cis-female aesthetic surgery. I opted to make a plasticine model of a woman, whose body and face I would gradually transform via popular cosmetic procedures. My initial 8 inch tall wire frame felt too small, as did the 12 inch one I made next. Eventually I made a 20 inch tall figure which I covered in foil. I called her Chantelle.

I'd planned to make her overweight so I could give her liposuction, and I wanted her to represent a real, ordinary woman. But I inadvertently gave her very long legs, and an exceptionally narrow frame. It was then I realised nearly every representation of a female I've ever made, has had the elegant, leggy, emaciated form of a fashion model, or even a Giacometti sculpture.

I also made a 5 inch tall head, representing a close-up of her face, so I could more easily perform her facial surgery: face-lift, nose job, lower eye blepharoscopy, cheek implants, jaw shaving and chin implant, smile line and tear trough fillers, and botox.


I hadn't worked with plasticine before and soon learnt that it doesn't smooth out like clay, so her skin had a rough finish. I offered my patient/client skin resurfacing as part of the package – not mentioning that I had no idea how to achieve it.

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After slicing off layers of her stomach and hips I gave her round breasts. I left her in bandages and attended to her face. It was hard because the head was small, but I 'shaved the jaw' – which is a real thing, by the way – as she had a big chin for a 'pretty female'.  

Then it was time for Miss C's nose job. A few people were drifting in now, and I explained what I was doing, telling them it was my first try at a nose job. It didn't go that well, and turned out a bit Michael Jackson. Chantelle wasn't happy so I booked her in for a revision. Meanwhile, to cheer her up, I gave her cheek implants, and fillers in her lips,  smile lines and tear troughs.

As can sometimes be the case with aesthetic surgery clients, Chantelle began showing clear signs of body dysmorphia. She thought her breast implants weren't big enough, and were asymmetrical, and she requested a revision with breast lift.

She also thought her lips were still too thin and wanted more filler. Her chin was now too pointy, and she wanted it squarer. I understood her reservations about her new nose, and agreed to resolve all her complaints.

A good surgeon would have seen the warning signs of her dyspmorphia, and even refused to give her further treatments, but she threatened to give me a bad name as a professional, so I complied. Also, I was ashamed of the botched nose job.

Deej Fabyc, who was making clay body imprints in the same space as my surgery, suggested oil for smoothing the skin, and I used some coconut oil I'd brought with me, which gave Chantelle a lovely new skin texture and eradicated all of her wrinkles and scars. I gave her the button nose people go for these days, and added more lip filler, giving her the 'done' look that's becoming quite common.

Chantelle still wasn't happy and I was prepared to make her become quite monstrous, but I ran out of time. I guess she was saved by the bell, but I feel as though I can hear her from her bubble-wrapped box, begging for more work to be done. I have itchy fingers too . . .

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