Casey Jenkins’ performance piece “Casting off my Womb” is a performance in which the artist knits from wool that she had placed within her vaginal tunnel, marking a full menstrual cycle. It sparked somewhat of a fire-storm after it was publicized – over 3.5 million people have viewed the above video and the now inevitable backlash happened, with Jenkins taking to the pages of The Guardian to rebutt some of the criticisms she faced, and to highlight how gendered these criticisms were – especially those that concentrated on elements of Jenkins such as her face, her hair, even her knitting technique. Such art is not new of course, and Jenkins work detrives from other works of feminist art such as Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll and Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document.
What I find most intriguing though, because the backlash to this work feels somewhat like a rehash of every single backlash that art tends to engender, is Jenkins own discussion of her work (emphasis mine):
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. In the video I refer to ‘parenthood’, a gender-neutral term, and there is no place in either the performance or the documentation that accompanies it that I state my own gender identity. I do not object to viewers making assumptions, our brains and language function on systems of categorisation, but they are their assumptions and definitions, not mine or my work’s. Women are all constructed differently and, for many, the vulva 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 work, 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 and menstruation 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.
What do you think of this piece of art – do you think Jenkins is able to accomplish her goals in this work?