This is everything. It isn’t trying to make a statement, it isn’t trying to declare solutions. It is quietly pressing pause and really looking at culture as NPR is so brilliant at doing.
I’ll make note of a couple of those silent spaces here. For one thing, I’m not referencing anyone’s body but my own and at no point do I make an indelible connection between the vulva and the womb and gender. Women are all constructed differently and, for many, these body parts or a menstrual cycle are not present. For some trans*men and genderqueer people they are present. However, even if I don’t make a link between physical attributes and gender in my piece, they’re links that the wider community do make; negative reactions towards the vulva and menstruation are hallmarks of misogyny and they are the reactions I want to address with this piece. Similarly, I do not define knitting as a gendered activity (actually I can’t think of any activity I’d define as intrinsically gendered), but the wider community in which I live does. Because this community is patriarchal and misogynistic the habitual association it has with knitting being ‘women’s work’ causes it to dismiss the technique as benign and unimportant.
In this piece I’m trying to draw the warped and misogynistic views about the vulva into the open. I hope the dissonance between those views and the common warm or dismissive responses to knitting (also based on patriarchy-serving fallacies), will begin to break down both responses and the damaging ideas behind them, showing them to be absurd.
Another silent space in the piece is my queer identity. Actually this was noted on a plaque during the live performance but not included in the video by SBS2 and I’m actually glad that it wasn’t because lordy lord! If the gay-bashers had gotten that into their arsenal on the chat-boards we might just have broken the internet. I’m glad it wasn’t included though also because it wasn’t of primary significance to the work as others will perceive it, but it was of personal significance to me as I performed it. As I sat and knitted I was naturally considering how it came to be that the vaginal tunnel is held in such different regard to all other body areas. The community is VERY concerned about what goes in and out of my vag! Check out the comments on Gawker! Personally though, I’m not that focussed on it. I consider my whole body to be a sexual organ (sometimes), treat all parts with the same sort of general care and consideration and don’t really have such a stringent hierarchy of bits. To me it seems the vaginal tunnel only really comes to take on great significance in a heteronormative context.
I’m proud that a cis-man could not have done this work because I think it’s important for people to tell their own stories. Probably the most depicted body type in the history of ‘art’ is that of cis-women of, as they say, ‘child-bearing age’. Most of the artists behind those works certainly didn’t have the bodies they were depicting. But this work, about casting off others’ perceptions about my body and what I should do with it, could only have been done by me.
I own it.
Casey Jenkins on her performance piece Casting Off My Womb (x)