Bronwyn Platten, Mouth Drawing (eyes open) Bronwyn Platten, Mouth Drawing (eyes shut)

About Mouths and Meaning

About Mouths and Meaning


Mouths and Meaning is a research project and associated exhibition that seeks to explore and represent experiences of embodiment for people who have been affected by the experience of an eating disorder. The word, embodiment, relates to the way in which all our experiences, our daily lives are sensed, interpreted and communicated in and through our bodies. [1]

While it is widely recognized that the contributing causes of an eating disorder are multidimensional in nature [2], the embodiment of those suffering is largely understood and represented as a preoccupation with body image and appearance. Mouths and Meaning seeks to challenge this commonly held perspective by creatively and conceptually exploring how the body is understood, felt, and communicated.

Susie Orbach suggests that the growing phenomenon of eating disorders is partly due to the fact that we have a lost the ability to enjoy our bodies. [3] Importantly also, we have lost the ability to take our embodiment for granted. Instead, she argues, our bodies have become sites of anxiety for us.  We now ‘work’ upon our bodies, utilising exercise regimes, diets and/or surgical procedures, in ways that we hope will make us feel better about ourselves.

As an adolescent and young adult, I was affected by anorexia and then bulimia, and subsequently developed Mouths and Meaning in recognition of the need to explore ways to find a more inclusive and non-judgemental approach to understanding the interrelationships between embodiment and eating. I initially selected the mouth as a focus, given the limited time of the project and the mouth’s under-explored involvement in the experience of eating and appetite. Tasting, chewing and swallowing food, eating too much or not enough are all physically experienced and sensed as well as being social acts. The mouth is also active in the creation and projection of speech and in the sensing of and communicating pleasures and dislikes. Thus the mouth links to the inside of one’s self and body, while expressing and connecting with others and the outside world via social acts such as talking, kissing, and the tasting and sharing food [4].

To access perceptual awareness of embodiment, and to capture experience beyond the external appearance of the body - I have utilized a multi-sensory creative approach embracing sound, taste, touch, smell as well as sight. I have held workshops with small and large groups to explore people’s interior experience of their mouths and has collaborated extensively with Sarah Coggrave, who has also been affected by the experience of an eating disorder.

Mouths and Meaning exhibitions include a variety of artworks such as a collection of drawings that people have created during especially facilitated workshops to represent their experience of the inside of their mouths, as well as explorations with Sarah Coggrave. As co-collaborators Sarah and I worked together over a year, exploring mutual interests with a diversity of media from performance, sound, sculpture, and drawing to writing, movement, tasting and eating. Together, we created two filmed works especially for Mouths and Meaning, Untitled 2010 and Untitled (The Party) 2011 that poetically evoke our shared investigations of material and sensory nature of food. Other collaborative works include sculptures such as Flumpy (2010) concocted of lollies we both enjoyed as children as well as a series of dolls (2010-11) that express personal metaphors for relationships as they are felt and embodied. The exhibitions have also shown related individual artworks created by the artists over the project’s development. Also on show have been examples of  earlier works that explore the multidimensional nature of the mouth from The Inventory [5] which forms a precursor to Mouths and Meaning.

Two exhibtions of Mouths and Meaning have taken place to date: Chapman Gallery, University of Salford, Manchester (2011) and The Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide (2013). For the AEAF I created a number of new works specifically for this exhibition along with artworks from the original exhibtion.

Notes and References

  1. Burkitt, I (1999) Bodies of Thought, London: Sage
  2. Bordo S (1993) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, Berkley: University of California Press
  3. Orbach S (2009) Bodies, London: Profile Books
  4. Falk P (1994) The Consuming Body, London: Sage
  5. Platten, B (1963 – 2011) The Inventory includes images and insight about a range of artworks produced over Bronwyn’s life that are informed by autobiographical and cultural understanding of eating disorders and/or embodiment.









Sarah Coggrave, co-collaborator with Bronwyn Platten for Mouths and Meaning

Bronwyn Platten would like to thank all the participants who took part in Mouths and Meaning: Workshop 1 

Potters Parlour

HaCIRIC Research Team

Conference Delegates, Australian Women's and Gender Studies Association Conference, Adelaide 2010

First-Year Students and Staff, Gray's School of Art, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen 2010, 2011, 2012