Issue 38 – October Casey Jenkins – sMother [Performance Art] and Amy Watkins, Poetry
sMother psychological-endurance artwork. Gendered assumptions, judgments and advice – whether meant to protect or to control – bind and confine those perceived to be ‘women of child bearing age’, paralysing us with fear and shame. Our identities are subdued and mummified in forced acquiescence by community expectations that preserve absurd gender roles.
At nearly 38 yo and after two miscarriages in the previous year, Casey performed sMother, the final in a trilogy of performances exploring the restrictive nature of gendered expectations on those perceived to be ‘women of child-bearing age’.
Casey knitted daily over the course of a week with yarn drawn from their vagina, linking two common but somewhat conflicting indicators of femininity; the vulva associated with women’s sexuality and reproduction, and knitting associated with elderly asexual women. As Casey knitted, audience members were invited to activate a four channel, 28 track soundscape of advice and commentary regarding ‘women of child-bearing age’, reflecting the judgments of diverse commentators from lounge-room analysts to Donald Trump. By activating the sound montages, the audience was complicit in mirroring and perpetuating the cacophony of gendered judgments that strengthen patriarchal control.
Casey absorbed the relentless barrage while creating a knitted length that grew over the course of days into a rope that bound and distorted their body – travelling from the popular ‘serene pregnant woman’ fable to something more representative of the lived experience of those perceived to be ‘women of child bearing age’, involving discomfort, fear, frustration and claustrophobia. Each stitch may be seen as a mark of acquescence to the absurdity of gender expectations – an acquiescence that at first may comfort and shield, but soon distorts, binds and restricts.
Casey Jenkins (b. 1979, Melbourne, Australia) is currently a Master of Contemporary Art student at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Jenkins is an installation and durational/community-engagement performance artist. Combining tactility with technology, craft with performance, her work ranges from minimalist solo durational performances to pieces that deliberately toy with (and aim to redefine) power structures via street art and experimental group performance. Recent works have been shown at the Venice International Performance Art Week, London Science Gallery, and SomoS Art House, Berlin.
LEARNING THE HARD WAY
I feel for the door-to-door evangelists,
the Jehovah’s Witnesses, women in long skirts
and blue-gray sweaters, and the pairs
of handsome, clean-cut Mormon boys,
one always more shy than the other, holding
a stack of books and a bicycle helmet
under one arm. They are eager and
lovely, and even I don’t invite them in.
My mother did when I was a child, because
she too felt called to witness. The seventh-day.
The second coming. Everything that made us
strange. She took out her Bible, its leather cover
worn as a pair of work gloves, and listened
to them expound their faith in the kind of earnest voices
movie actors reserve for speeches like, Please believe
me: an asteroid is on a collision course
with Earth. Her response was apologetic,
almost embarrassed; for every verse they quoted,
she knew two. I recognized the doubt soaking in,
the frustration. Still, they squared their shoulders.
No one wants to fall for the smooth sales pitch,
the telemarketer’s call, the good news of the pamphlet
the glassy-eyed woman’s hand. Whatever truth
there is, we want to find it for ourselves
like the ultimate rummage sale bargain.
Believe me, you can’t tell us anything.
Originally published in The Mom Egg Vol. 8 Lessons, 2010.
Amy Watkins is the author of the chapbooks Milk & Water, Lucky, and Wolf Daughter (coming soon from Sundress Publications). She lives in Orlando with her husband and daughter and a mean-spirited ginger cat. Find her online at RedLionSq.com or @amykwatkins.