Above: A photo-portrait of Grace Neutral. Uncredited photographer.
Twenty-nine-year-old Grace Neutral is an icon for the alt-tattoo goths in the Instagram Age. The aesthetic idea behind her many permanent body-mods is to look as alien and otherworldly as possible--as a matter of fact Grace wants ideally to look like an elf.
Grace has been several times on camera describing her body-mods, and the procedures she has had in more detail--one of which was belly-button removal. Grace comes across in videos as a simpleton and a dullard. In one of her best interviews she talks about having her belly-button removed. It was done in an environment where no effort to create a sterile space had been made--as her surgeon carried on (a jumped-up tattooist) she mopped his brow at her own initiative, in order to stop his sweat dripping into her open wound. Even bearing this in mind she was completely happy with the procedure and the surgeon.
As a portrait, a photo of Grace is much like a photo of Adwoa Aboah, or Hari Nef: these are some of the indispensable Faces of Our Times.
One uncredited photo-portrait (above) is worth a closer look. We see from the backdrop and diffuse lighting that this a studio-based portrait-photo--it's not a snapshot, it's a photo made by a pro, and this signifies that Neutral has become notable enough to get photographed in this pro-way. The striking thing about the portrait is its instant impact on any unsuspecting-and-conventional viewer: the face of a young woman has been irreversibly mutilated-and-scarred in a number of ways ... and these disfigurations have been carried out intentionally--in the name of artistic and personal expression! There is bifurcation of the lower lip; scarification across the forehead; pigment-colouring of the eyeballs; the creation of two large vent-holes on either side of the nose; and facial-tattooing. (There is also elf-ear mods that are covered and not visible.) These things taken all together add up to a very unusual, some might say disturbing, face being presented to the camera.
Neutral's procedures come close to, and possibly cross the line of, what is socially acceptable and what is legally acceptable--although tattooing is legal, many other forms of organized and consensually-agreed cruelty are not. As Lord Templeman stated in 1993 in the R v Brown judgment: "I do not consider that Article 8 [of the HCHR] invalidates a law which forbids violence which is intentionally harmful to body and mind. Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult of violence."
This is a very contested scene of claims: there are those who argue that if a person consents, then they can consent even to GBH being done to them. The State don't agree, English law makes it clear that you cannot mutilate yourself, or get others to mutilate you. The Crown will tend to argue that any such consent is intrinsically undermining, perverting, and harmful, to society itself.
It is a moot point (literally) as to whether those carrying out Neutral's procedures were breaking the law, even if she consented to them. Either way, the argument is somewhat academic in so far as the procedures are likely not reversible. The photo's principal impact is an effect on the viewer something like this: "How could she choose to do these horrifying disfigurements? How terrible. She is sure to regret all this ... and in pursuit of becoming an elf! My God!" In other words, this young woman's entire appearance is built up, one could say, from an intent to shock-and-appall the middle-brow, middle-classes. (Thus a motivation not really different to the classical punk ethos.) Her look can be understood as a form of art, sure, but it can also be understood as a protest: a rather full-on teenage rebellion that has carried on for a decade already.
(3 September 2018)