An Australian artist who previously drew a torrent of angry comments for knitting with wool inserted into her vagina will soon weave that negative feedback into a new work of art. Casey Jenkins first incensed viewers in 2013 with “Casting Off My Womb,” a 28-day performance at the Darwin Visual Arts Association that a local television network documented and later made available on YouTube (NSFW). The footage has since garnered over 6 million views and has triggered volumes of comments that range from disgusted one-liners to outraged accusations of attention-mongering.
Jenkins is now confronting her critics and is starting a new project to knit some of the most frequently recurring comments she’s received into woolen canvases, using wool dyed with her own menstrual blood. As opposed to the handcrafted method employed in the earlier project, she will use a hacked digital knitting machine bought on eBay to make this new work, programming the machine so she can connect and control its motions from a computer.
There are many unique ways to handle rough criticism, but few artists — if any — have actually taken those words as a source for another body of work that will undoubtedly lead to additional public anger. While some people will likely see Jenkins’s forthcoming project as another way to deliberately stir more controversy or draw attention to herself, she sees the process as an exploration of how people digest and respond to information on the internet. Although Jenkins received thousands upon thousands of comments on “Casting Off My Womb,” most of those responses fall into just “a handful of broad categories” that reflect an online culture of narrow and uniform thinking, as she explained to Hyperallergic in an email.
“I’ve been screen-capping and saving the comments in files with titles like ‘WTF,’ ‘Crazy,’ ‘Nuts,’ ‘Mental Illness,’ ‘Gross/Disgusting,’ ‘Not Art,’ ‘She Should Be Shot,’ ‘LOL,’ and ‘I’m Gonna Knit From My Ass,'” she said. “The repetitious nature of the comments, I think, gives insight into how group-think operates on the internet as well as the power of major media outlets to lead and shape online discussion.”
Like “Casting Off My Womb,” in which Jenkins was concerned about “forging a sense of autonomy in the face of body/sex/gender-related community pressure,” this forthcoming work aims to assert her control over her own body. Few media outlets, she said, actually interviewed her when her first performance went viral, and she is now taking the reactions that stemmed from such “hastily formed ideas and assumptions” and manipulating them wholly as she desires. This new work illustrates the tendency for a tide of uniform language to form online; and, with its use of material that never fails to shock, it is also an act of defiance — an assertive form of personal justice.
“Knitting those comments using my menstrual blood is both sticking my finger up at and paying homage to those commentators,” Jenkins said. “I imagine people who filled feeds calling me disgusting and gross will find it quite galling, and that does give me a certain sense of delight.”
The overwhelming majority of comments Jenkins has received are negative, but there have been some positive — most of them occurring off the internet, in more intimate, face-to-face situations.
“I can spend hours and hours screen-capping before I stumble across one,” she said. “I’ve had some beautiful and encouraging emails and, in person, people have generally been intrigued and kind, but I think it’s intimidating on the net to stand up against a tide of negativity.”
The finished, woolen work will go on display this October in the University of Melbourne’s George Paton Gallery as part of the group exhibition f generation: feminism, art, progressions. Jenkins plans to have a larger show next year that includes a video installation and performance.
Casey Jenkins’s new work will be included in f generation: feminism, art, progressions, running at the University of Melbourne’s George Paton Gallery (level 2, Union House University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) October 7–16.