If you take a good, hard look at a vulva, you realize it's just a bit of a body. There's nothing that is shocking or scary, you know, nothing that is gonna run out and eat you up.
Casey Jenkins identifies herself as a former "craftivist"—a term she defines as "using traditional craft techniques for a political or social activism purpose." She and her colleagues in the Craft Cartel acted as a sort of "Pussy Riot" in their native Australia, combating misogyny and closed government. It doesn't get much more open than her latest work of gallery performance art, "Casting Off My Womb"—or as Aussie TV called it, "Vaginal Knitting."
It is what it sounds like: "I'm spending 28 days knitting from wool that I've inserted in my vagina," Jenkins says. "It's confining, because I'm attached to this knitting."
What emerges is not only an active sensory performance—"It's sort of slightly uncomfortable sometimes, arousing sometimes"—but a piece of cloth that literally records a female life in all its natural states: "The performance wouldn't be a performance if I were going to cut out my menstrual cycle from it."
None of this is terribly novel to observers of feminist art: Its discomforting exhibitionism conjures up classics like Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece." Its vaginal showcasing echoes Carolee Schneeman's "Internal Scroll." Hell, its interest in the womanly elemental creative force even hints of Mary Kelly's pre- and post-partum documents.
Still, there's something interesting going on with all of these themes: the vagina as both creative force and an agent of tethering, of isolation. The record of a life in menstrual cycles. The embrace of what society considers taboo to display, even unfairly calls ugly or grotesque.
Is it cutting-edge art in 2013? Perhaps not. But it's still jarring. And perhaps its power lies in the fact that the same feminist themes and visuals that shocked us in the '60s and '70s still shock us today. "I hope that people question the fears and the negative associations they have with the vulva," Jenkins says.
You've come a long way, baby; now get back to your knitting.