by Jess Howard
Content warning: the article mentions menstruation and physical discomfort.
In 2013, performance artist Casey Jenkins from Melbourne, Australia, caused a storm on the internet by knitting for 28 days in a gallery space using wool she had inserted into her vagina. The piece was titled Casting Off My Womb, but was christened Vaginal Knitting by the press. Almost 3 years later, Jenkins is knitting from her vagina once more, producing a commentary on the abuse she received when her original piece went viral.
Her latest project, Programmed To Reproduce, is a multi media solo piece. Jenkins uses old knitting machines to produce banners that contain the abusive tweets and comments she received after a YouTube video of her piece went viral, they are accompanied by a reading of the abusive comments that she received as a result of her original piece, as well as Jenkins sitting nude in the gallery space, finger knitting a smaller version of her 2013 scarf with wool once again taken from her vagina.
The purpose behind the original piece was to address the world-wide taboos around female bodies and genitalia, creating an artistic discourse by taking something that is frequently ignored or even considered repulsive, and joining it something seen as warm and comforting. Jenkins said that producing the piece was not painful, and that it only became difficult and uncomfortable during her period, when the wool was harder to knit with due to the moisture of her menstrual blood making it damp. Through her performance, Jenkins wanted to question why we have these fears and negative associations with vaginas.
When researching the piece, even reviews written by women seemed to reinforce the idea that discussing vaginas is a taboo subject. A piece by Katherine Brooks in the Huffington Post online Arts & Culture section opened with ‘Two words: Vaginal. Knitting’, highlighting the notion of shame and embarrassment that often surrounds women’s bodies. Brooks then goes on to quote Adam Weinstein’s article written for Gawker media entitled, “”Vaginal Knitting” Is the New Thing in Activist Performance Art”, published in November 2013. In the article, Weinstein suggests that the reason audiences reacted to Jenkin’s original work with such vehement revulsion is “Perhaps [the project’s] power lies in the fact that the same feminist themes and visuals that shocked us in the ‘60s and ‘70s still shock us today.”
When researching the piece, even reviews written by women seemed to reinforce the idea that discussing vaginas is a taboo subject.
Whilst Weinstein makes an excellent, and upsettingly accurate, point, it is Brooks’ reaction that I find most disturbing, and saddening. When art is produced, it is expected that both good and bad reviews will be written. The opinions of others play a major role in any area of the arts, and sometimes people will just not like an artist’s work. But to open her article with the sentence ‘Two words: Vaginal. Knitting’, all Brooks seems to be doing is siding with the people who’ve already reacted negatively towards the piece.
What Jenkins’ piece, and the press and general public’s subsequent reaction, is showing us is how deeply averse and almost disgusted we as a society by a body part owned by half the population. With various people frequently telling us to ignore advertisers and love ourselves the way we are, doesn’t it make sense that this should apply to our entire bodies? We should be teaching women that there is nothing repulsive or shocking about their vaginas, and share the body positivity around to places that you can’t always see.
Featured image © Justin McManus