So one of the possible names I have been using to try to describe my various threads and themes this year is – ‘Re-animalisation’ or ‘She’s a Beast’ and another term I really like is Barbara Creed’s book title ‘The Monstrous Feminine’. I mean a kind of re-animalisation of the ‘clean and proper body’ (Julia Kristeva’s term). I have made a lot of work, so am showing a mish mash of images, some works in progress, to illustrate my ideas and plans for degree show, rather than showing my best work.
Like last year, I am challenging the appropriation and over-sterilisation of our health and lifestyles, our cultural de-animalisation, while celebrating the 90% non-human part of us, our microbiome, formed at birth. We use the word animal in a derogatory way when applying it to humans, and I am aware of the difficulties of this term as it could sound like dehumanizing, but I mean it more in that we should try to nurture a respect for all life and be part of all life, like Donna Haraways ‘Chthulucene’ (pronounced ‘thulucene’), which she defines as multi species stories and practices of becoming-with. The word comes partly from ‘Chthonic’ (ones), meaning ‘beings of the earth or underworld’.
So for my degree show, I am trying to create a sort of vivid, chaotic world where the visceral animal-woman and her effluvia are raised up, into the censored, phobic, Apollonian realm. To celebrate the yuckiness of bodily and earthly processes, seething with bacteria and creatures who spread these nutrients which are essential for all life. We are always trying to seal ourselves away from this stuff, pretend we are above being animals, with concrete and tarmac, with flushing toilets and anti-bacterial sprays, so I want to literally raise a sculpture of a huge squatting woman above our heads. She represents the sort of deviant-beast-woman, the monstrous feminine, so censored by our culture and I am putting her into a position of worship, a kind of huge, seeping, goddess. Nilla mentioned this character Baubo to me – who turns out to be exactly what I’ve made it seems! She gets called the vulvanic goddess or goddess of obscenity. She’s sometimes an old woman, has no head and her vulva is her mouth. She tells dirty jokes and stories and made Demeter laugh when she was in misery searching for her lost daughter.
As you can see, I am working in lots of different media, performance to camera included. I play the comic stereotype of just this sort of deviant, animal-woman, celebrating good bacteria, bodily functions and pleasure, a kind of maenad who, though ridiculous, also embodies a longing for female bodily autonomy and a more sympathetic connection between human and non-human. I am also making a separation compost toilet, to demonstrate that we can become part of the earth processes which chthonic creatures perform. We can literally feed them.
So, for my dissertation I am looking at this cultural eradicating of the animal from birthing women and its effect on reproductive rights worldwide.
I propose that institution-controlled births predominate in our visual culture and behave as cultural and social propaganda which divides women into two dominant stereotypes – they are characterized within the medical system, as good but invisible, or outside of the medical model, as deviant. I have found that whether it be reality or fiction based, visual art or media, birthing women are seldom shown with any meaningful voice and personal sovereignty and that positive, female-empowered birth images are continually censored. I have first-hand experience of this censorship, as I have twice had very innocent birth themed videos age restricted by YouTube.
(When I say invisible mothers, I mean that we do not see them. I mean that pregnant women are lost within the institution and have no voice or personal agency. Their births are technocratically and medically controlled.
When I say deviant mothers, I mean those who are seen to be rejecting the western medical model of childbirth and who demand control over their body and birthing experience.)
I like the idea of taking this invisible, headless woman and subverting her into the grinning vulvanic goddess of obscenity.