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‘Sometimes Uncomfortable, Sometimes Arousing’: The Slow Dramaturgy of Casey Jenkins's Craftivist Performances

  • LARA STEVENS
Abstract

From mid-October to mid-November 2013, Australian performance artist Casey Jenkins sat for twenty-eight days in a gallery in Darwin, far North Australia, knitting a scarf from a ball of wool lodged in her vagina. Parts of the performance of Casting Off My Womb were filmed by the public broadcasting service SBS2, and aired in late November 2013 as a two-minute-and-forty-eight-second video clip re-titled Vaginal Knitting. The clip went viral on YouTube, with over seven million views as of March 2016, and received extensive media attention. Casting Off My Womb attracted global public interest because Jenkins continued to knit throughout the days of her period, weaving her menstrual blood into the artwork. The performance elicited strong responses from its global viewing public. While some people praised the work, many online spectators wrote vicious, derisive and personal attacks on Jenkins for displaying her menstrual blood in a public place. This article uses Matthew Goulish's methodology of ‘slow thinking’ as a counterresponse to the impulsive reactions of the online spectators and as a means to register the powerful and incremental energy and effects of Jenkins's feminist performance.

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NOTES

1 SBS2, Vaginal Knitting (The Feed), 2013, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6RZZf6HMzo, accessed 11 November 2015.

2 The quoted comments are no longer accessible on YouTube, but Jenkins collected, sorted and stored all the comments into thematically organized digital folders, which she shared with the author on 12 February 2016.

3 Casey Jenkins, ‘I'm the “Vaginal Knitting” Performance Artist – and I Want to Defend My Work’, The Guardian, 17 December 2013, Australia edn, at www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/17/vaginal-knitting-artist-defence, accessed 3 December 2015.

4 In the Festival of Live Art (FOLA) held at Arts House in Melbourne, Australia, in March 2016 Jenkins performed another durational work titled Programmed to Reproduce, in which she programmed a knitting and crocheting machine to weave some of the online responses to Vaginal Knitting into fabric. In the work, audience members were invited to share their experiences as victims of online bullying.

5 Similar global public reactions to menstrual blood viewed through online social media sites were evident in 2015 when a young Canadian woman, Rupi Kaur, photographed herself lying in bed with a small period stain on her tracksuit pants and bed sheets and posted it on Instagram. Instagram deleted the photograph twice with the justification that it ‘doesn't follow Community Guidelines’. Radhika Sanghani, ‘Instagram Deletes Woman's Period Photos – but Her Response Is Amazing’, The Telegraph, 30 March 2015, at www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/instagram-deletes-womans-period-photos-but-her-response-is-amazing, accessed 3 December 2015. Kaur pre-empted the censorship and quickly responded with outrage in the media in a piece of writing that took the tone and structure of a manifesto. Her campaign was circulated and supported widely throughout global online communities via social and mainstream media sites: ‘I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an [sic] underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified [sic], and treated less than human.

. . .

Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

We will not be censored.

I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species. Whether I choose to create or not.’ See Sanghani, ‘Instagram Deletes Woman's Period Photos’. Kaur exposes the hypocrisy of Instagram's reaction to her menstrual blood given the site's permissive attitude towards the frequent circulation of images that sexualize young girls and women. Her manifesto also points to the absurdity of censoring a biological function that sustains our species. The popular public support for Kaur's response led to Instagram eventually apologizing and reinstating the photograph.

6 Jenkins, ‘I'm the “Vaginal Knitting” Performance Artist’.

7 Author interview with Casey Jenkins, Melbourne, 7 September 2015.

8 SBS2, Vaginal Knitting (The Feed).

9 Eckersall, Peter and Paterson, Eddie, ‘Slow Dramaturgy: Renegotiating Politics and Staging the Everyday’, Australasian Drama Studies, 58 (April 2011), pp. 178–92.

10 Goulish, Matthew, 39 Microlectures: In Proximity of Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 81.

11 Ibid., p. 82.

12 Wark, Jayne, Radical Gestures: Feminism and Performance Art in North America (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006), p. 234.

13 Elwes, Catherine, ‘Floating Femininity: A Look at Performance Art by Women’, in Kent, Sarah and Morreau, Jacqueline, eds., Women's Images of Men (London: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1985), pp. 164–93.

14 Elizabeth Manchester, ‘Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll 1975’, The Tate, November 2003, at www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schneemann-interior-scroll-p13282/text-summary, accessed 3 December 2015.

15 Forte, Jeanie, ‘Women's Performance Art: Feminism and Postmodernism’, Theatre Journal, 40, 2 (May 1988), pp. 217–35, here p. 226.

16 Nor did it demand that its audiences engage in behaviour that they might find confronting, difficult or unusual in the vein of feminist Germaine Greer's provocation: ‘If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you've a long way to go, baby’. Greer, Germaine, The Female Eunuch (St Albans: Paladin, 1971), p. 51.

17 Author interview with Casey Jenkins, Melbourne, 7 September 2015.

19 SBS2, Vaginal Knitting (The Feed).

21 Author interview with Casey Jenkins, Melbourne, 7 September 2015.

22 Eckersall and Paterson, ‘Slow Dramaturgy’, p. 179.

23 Ibid., pp. 179–80.

24 Ibid., p. 178.

25 Betsy Greer, ‘Craftivism in Three Parts’, Knitchicks, 2006, at http://acechick.typepad.com/knitchicks_features/craftivism_in_three_parts/index.html, accessed 17 February 2016.

26 Black, Anthea and Burisch, Nicole, ‘Craft Hard Die Free: Radical Curatorial Strategies for Craftivism’, in Elena Buszek, Maria, ed., Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. 204–21, here p. 206.

27 Bridie Jabour, ‘Julia Gillard's “Small Breasts” Served up on Liberal Party Dinner Menu’, The Guardian, 12 June 2013, Australia edn, at www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/12/gillard-menu-sexist-liberal-dinner, accessed 29 February 2016.

28 Julia Gillard, ‘Julia Gillard Lashes Abbott in Slipper Debate; Misogyny Speech’, AustralianPolitics.com, 9 October 2012, at http://australianpolitics.com/2012/10/09/gillard-lashes-abbott-in-misogyny-speech.html, accessed 2 December 2015.

29 Kelly, Maura, ‘Knitting as a Feminist Project?’, Women's Studies International Forum, 44 (2014), pp. 133–44, here p. 134.

30 FemiNEST Facebook Page, 2013, at www.facebook.com/events/205224812989676, accessed 22 February 2016.

31 McDonald, Helen, ‘Fling Ups and Girly Bits: Feminist Art and the Labiaplasty “Epidemic”’, n.paradoxa, 34 (2014), pp. 2836, here p. 29.

32 Author interview with Casey Jenkins, Melbourne, 7 September 2015.

33 Morini, Cristina in Power, Nina, One Dimensional Woman (Hants, UK: O Books, 2009), p. 21.

34 Eckersall and Paterson, ‘Slow Dramaturgy’, p. 180.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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