DJCAD Third Year Fine Art – Semester 2

Rachel Bride Ashton – Artists Statement

I have a cyclical, organic creative process whereby drawings, paintings, objects, installation, film and this year, also sculpture, generate characters, scenarios and microcosms. These often precipitate a performance which generates words, sound and video narrative, then back round again. This way of working redefines and confuses the contexts of my work in a teeming, effervescing conglomeration, much like a compost heap. 

I challenge the patriarchal and technocratic appropriation of our health and lifestyles and investigate the 90% non-human part of us, our microbiome, formed at birth. In a series of film shorts, I play the comic stereotype of a natural, hairy, animal-woman, a faecal fairy, a fermenting fairy, celebrating good bacteria and its sources, who calls for body autonomy and reunification of the fragmented bio-cosmic human garden. She morphs between plant, animal, human and turd, giving birth to herself whilst spreading rainbow psychobiotics.

I document the scatological processes of my off-grid home life, involving separation compost toilets and wild fermentation. I reenact the journey of natural vaginal birth, it’s effluvia and the disease resistance it can provide for life, while exposing the dark side of obstetrics. An etching turns live action in my short film ‘Dr Wolf’, where my recurring, but evolving, contemporary fairytale character, with comic arrogance, teaches the so-called husband stitch.

Resolved work

Exhibition Title – A Hole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Mixed Media Interactive Installation – paintings, sculpture and film.

Paintings

Watercolour and menstrual blood.

This collection of six paintings would be hung on a separate wall from the installation, unframed and fixed to the wall with poster mounted adhesive strips on acid free tape on the back of them.

They show disembodied limbs and bodies becoming plant and faeces. There is the form of a woman, who’s expression could be one of distress or pleasure, flailing uncontrollably, literally formed of and in a sea of her own effluvia. Another, with a furious expression and stains around her mouth, untangles her tongue from a violent plant while yet another squats, a rainbow turd emerging into the waiting mouths of the agents of decomposition below. Another still, rides a giant rainbow turd, hands free, a wicked grin spread across her face.

In all my work, the spreading of good bacteria is happening all around, but is this being celebrated or are we being faced with our own disgust?

Installation

The Main focus of this installation is like a totem pole of woman’s body parts. It elevates them to a position of symbolic importance while simultaneously perpetuating objectification and reductionism. My dissertation research which also became a talk at the Women’s IN-GEAR conference in April, which I called Patriarchal Appropriation and Medicalisation of Childbirth in Contemporary Visual Culture led to the working title of my sculpture – A Mouthful of the Trinity. This is my term for the three ingredients now know to be essential to sowing a healthy microbiome in new-born babies and in future disease resistance: they are bacteria from the first breast milk, the vagina and the anus. Its an inoculation for life, but the abundance of common surgical and pharmaceutical interventions of birth can interfere with this and cause lifelong chronic and more serious health issues for both mother and child.

The bright coloured, whimsical, cartoon-like aesthetic with the oversized vulva at its core, invites you to look into the vaginal tunnel, where a small birthing homunculus woman is also venturing. Here, through a deceptively beautiful multi colored silk tunnel you are confronted with a darker vision, some sort of torture chamber for pregnant women, where the obstetricians are all wolves. Withdrawing your head, you may now see the giant needle through the labia, if you hadn’t already. You realise it may not be just benevolently mending a natural tear, it hints uncomfortably at cutting, maybe labiaplasty or the husband stitch. Maybe you now feel uncomfortable that you almost smiled at the sight of the giant vulva and stuck your head inside without consent. You are now part of the violation.

We are led to another part of the installation by painted shapes and rainbow tentacles or worms, which reach along the ground and wall towards the corner. In the corner is an object which could be an anemic turd, crowned with flowers and emblazoned with the words seven years with the worms. Flanked by fat plants like trees, worms and slugs, a wiry scarlet woman with huge eyes and very long black hair, squats over some clay balls, it is not clear if she is defecating or laying eggs. The seven years refers to the maximum length of time it can take for pathogens to die in human faeces buried in soil and also the length of time it takes for us to completely regenerate all the cells in our bodies.

With more space, I could also have made larger fabric trees, plants, slugs and worms. and the whole installation could have been more immersive with distinct areas. I could also have made the vagina big enough to climb through or into, like a cave and this could have been a dark comfy place to watch my films, like a much smaller, softer version of Anish Kapoor’s vaginal entrance or Niki de Saint Phalle’s collaborative work – ‘Cathedral’ from the exhibition ‘She’. This is something I could consider for my degree show, unless my subject matter has moved in a different direction by then.

Video Installation Mock up

The video below shows how the series of four film shorts would be playing on a continuous loop on the monitor on the wall as part of the exhibition. It’s showing just a short clip of one of the films. In an ideal situation with more space, I might have a bigger TV monitor in more of a space of its own, but still looking like part of the installation.

Below is a short virtual tour of the installation.

Films

The four short films document emergence from reductionism with natural bodily processes involving effluvia, rich with good bacteria and wild fermentation up against Dr Wolfs obstetric violence. Performed by my recurring contemporary fairytale characters.

Dr Wolf

Fermenting Fairy

Butt Life Poo Friends

Snow Birds Snow Pee