There Is More Than One Way To Bleed: A Confession and Art Review
RED LIKE ROSES. BLOODY MARY.
BIG RED MONSTER. GO WITH THE FLOW.
MY CUP OF JOY IS OVERFLOWING. HER WHORES ARE A MOANING
AMMUNITION. THE CIRCUS IS CLOSED. THE MONKEY HAS A NOSEBLEED
MY PUSSY HAS A NOSEBLEED. SURFING THE CRIMSON WAVE
AUNT FLO. TEARS OF A DISSAPOINTED UTERUS
FLYING HER COLOURS. NOSE BLEED
TOO MUCH SAUCE ON THE FISH TACO. MONSOON SEASON
SATAN’S WATER FALL. RED SEA
THE SHRKS ARE CIRCLING. RED WINGS
BILLING CYCLE. HAVING YOUR PIXIES
I CAN’T CHURN THE BUTTER TODAY. A LITTLE KETCHUP WITH MY STEAK
WITCHY BITCHY WEEK. BLOOD MOON
I LIKE MY MEAT RAW. MOTHER NATURES MONTHLY GIFT
TOMATO BOAT. CLOSED FOR BUISENESS
A FRIEND VISITS
It was a simple concept: get 33 artists to give a visual interpretation of one of 33 statements that are used to creatively describe getting your period. Shark Week the exhibition is the brainchild of furniture designer and entrepreneur Roz Campbell.
When the 33 affectionate, vivid, accurate and graphic genteelisms are listed one under the other and in capital letters, it creates a sense of pride and poetic resonance to the process that is familiar to half the population of this planet. I stare at the list of terms for a moment and am transfixed. This is not just an art review for me. This is something much more personal and involves a confession.
This particular art show was going to provide me with some much needed information and knowledge. It is not complete bull that art can change the world and be dangerous. It can be both these things and many more. This art show was going to allow me to climb inside of a concept that had always been separated by a tightly shut window. I was going to learn what it was like to get your period. I was going to feel vicariously through art, what it was like to have your uteral wall cleaned out by bleeding for 5 days a month.
I never got my period. My grandmother who lived on the farm with my family thought that you simply had to reach a certain age and weight before you got to be visited by aunt flow. ‘’You will get it if you put on a bit of weight.’’ She told me, when I was 12. She would stick raw egg into my milkshakes, in an attempt to bulk me up.
It did not work. At 17 it was found and verified: I did not have a uterus. I was simply born without one. I had little twisted up ovaries floating around in the space of my insides.
Oh no! what would I do?! I would never get married to a nice Mormon boy, now. You needed to have a uterus and birthing abilities for that. Because that was what we were made for, dammit.
There were used pads in the bin in the bathroom, growing up. My mum’s and then as my sisters grew up, the amount of boxes of cheap black and gold brand pads in the bathroom cupboard got extensively more abundant. There was a trademark smell that made me wrinkle my nose as I would empty the bin full of used pads by throwing them in the wood fire in winter. There are references to menstruating in movies that I love like when Cher in the 90s reimagining of Austen’s novel: Emma, says one of her ‘’Tardys’ was because she was ‘’Surfing the crimson wave and had to haul ass to the ladies.’’ Because I never got the one thing that usually inspires the birds and the bees talk. My mother never gave me the birds and the bees talk. She did give me a pre emptive, ‘’Get Ready For The Curse’’ talk. That strikes me as really funny, now.
I have always felt a bit of a traitor to the feminist movement a deep and very real conflict within me stems from the idea that I want women to celebrate their monthly cycle and embrace all it comes with. I want it to be surrounded by less stigma and shame. Yet, the idea of it the abstract concept that it is to me, rather than a real and concrete thing that I go through on the regular, makes it difficult for me to comprehend and understand. I have also been told thousands of times how lucky I am. I am lucky but not for the reasons most women who say im lucky, think I am lucky. Im lucky because not being able to have babies set the jumping of point for life goals that lay outside the confines of my patriarchal religious upbringing. It was my Dad who said on the day we found out about me being sans uterus. ‘’Your mother always wanted babies and that great for her. But, you are smart and you can do anything you want.’’ I do not think my father remember saying that to me. I’m not sure if he meant it. It does not matter he said exactly what I needed to hear at that point in my life. When it was told to my aunts and my mother. It was them who acted like this was the biggest tragedy, the most awful thing that could happen. They were so very wrong.
When I confessed the idea of period blood grosses me out, to a friend. They responded by saying. ‘’But you have woken up covered in your own blood before.’’
‘’Yes, that was blood from a popped stitch in my neck: an artery connected to my heart. Nice clean and poetic blood.’’ I say. ‘’Not the type of blood that comes out of my vagina. Its different.’’ But, is it really? Probabley not.
Cue me on Friday evening, amped up and wearing my red coat over my dark blue denim dungaree (opp shop), on my way to Shark Week: an exhibition dedicated to the very thing a birth defect and had kept from me.
When I enter the tiny space that is Enough Space Gallery I am bombarded with visual stimuli that encapsulates the practically universal experience of getting ‘’your rag.’’ There are delicious doughnuts provided that are jam filled (of course) and beautiful young things spilling out onto the street as the gallery filled up fast. I weave around the bodies like an art seeing ninja. It is easy to do when so many people are taller than you. I see boob earrings, complete with tiny nipples. Both black and white boobs but not mismatched boob earrings. There what look like moon cup earrings. There is an image of a woman with no clothes on. She is drawn in black ink and her breasts are pointed down, she has hairy legs and is glorious as much as she is a giantess. She has her legs apart and there is a splurge of red rain drops coming from between her legs and falling over four tiny houses and a car. The energy in the out lined drawing, is vibrant and fun. I look at it in awe for some time.
Billing Cycle by Jessica Bong is a tally of every cycle she has had. ‘’Bleeding since 06, Baby.’’ Looking at her dates all so neatly compiled in columns and framed on the wall, made me think about how much money that would amount to. Not just the pads or tampons, but, the things you need and want when in the throws of period hell: chocolate and things like snacks and meat and soft drink and hot water bottles and even days of work for women who have particularly bad pains and discomfort. This all adds up to a sum of money that men do not need to worry about. In a country where you are taxed simply because you are a woman who has these needs, Jessica Bong’s contribution to the art show was an important and thought provoking one. It was not merely cute or funny, it had edge and those edges could ensnare on a loose thread of thought and brain mush. It had a way of sinking into your mind deeper and deeper over time. I will be thinking about this work for some time. It is one that truly did make me smash through my veneer of not completely understanding the experience.
‘’My god, that is such a long time to bleed.’’ I say out loud. The girl next to me laughs. ‘’Its only ten years.’’
‘’You spend all that time in a life span bleeding from your vagina and then when you finally stop, you have it replaced with the discomfort of menopause.’’ I sigh.
Okay Montana’s work is a brightly coloured and collage inspired mishmash of text and illustration. It shows three separate women. One is toples and holding an assault rifle. This is a nod to the idea that money from female hygiene product goes to fund wars started by men. In a way you are shoving ammunition up inside yourself with every tampon. It is a startling and very uncomfortable thought. To think that not only are women paying tax on something that is caused by biology and not some deliberate and forced act. Further more the money is going towards aspects of society that further the silencing and constricting of women. There is a speech bubble next to a naked girl with glasses on and long brown hair. The words inside the bubble say: I’m listening to Alanis morrisette ‘Ironic’, while I poke some ammunition up my vagina. This tickles me and makes me wish I could buy it for one of my sisters. Then I remember: they wont know who Alanis Morrisette is. The Bloody Hell pad patch by LIVE SICK DIE ILL is particularly awesome. Bloody hell is sewn in blood drippy lettering, onto the pad shaped white patch.
But it was Blood Moon by Beci Orphan that enchanted me with its beautiful block colours and the profile of a blue face surrounded by abstract shapes, that were all bursting from a upside down triangle resembling a moon cup. I’m a sucker for minimalist design and eye catching, well constructed colour combinations. They just make me happy.
After a couple of free beers, it strikes me as funny that there was no serving of bloody marys. That would have tilted the scales of how great this show is from great to OMG THEY HAVE BLOODY MARYS AT THIS THING: OUTSTANDING. That would have taken far more time to organize, so I forgive Roz for the oversight. A Friend Visits by Filthy Ratbag is a line drawing of a girl sitting in bathtub full of red. There is red coming out the tap and a wine glass full of suspiciously cloudy red liquid. The woman has a ciggerette held loosely on the edge of the bath. Her head is tilted back and the red is spreading up her hair.
It is my middle sibling Romy’s birthday on the 18th of January. I want to get her something that she can use and enjoy. I want to get her something that can be handed down and shared amongst her two daughters, when they hit puberty and all it entails. I purchase a paddy wheat heat pack. To illuminate how useful this is: Paddy the wheat heat pack is your new best friend when you’re cramping or cold!
At widest dimensions Paddy is approximately 32cm long and the wing span (haha) is 24cm. Made from white corduroy with felt eyes, filled with biodynamic organic wheat. I must say the notion of this gift being able to be shared amongst three woman in the family, is a sweet dream. I mean wont their cycles all align and cause all three ladies to need it at the same time? Will they need to write up a roster for the paddy heat pack? In my head it is a beloved and treasured gift. I am lauded for my quirkiness and thoughtful choices when purchasing birthday presents.
The whole show was a brilliant celebration of what it can mean to be a female. How this one thing is interpreted and experienced is different from one woman to the next.
On the train home. I am annoyed as i left the present bag with my friend. There is an attractive couple sitting across from me and sharing a box of churros. The girl has a bag that says the words SAN FRANCISCO; THE GARDEN STATE. She takes a churro from the box resting on her boyfriends knees. He smiles at her and takes one for himself. ”Hows that sugar free diet working for you?” He says, his handsom face smiling with good natured and affectionate mirth.
”Really good, thanks.” She says biting her churro and chewing gracefully.
Behind me group of young men in their early twenties are discussing the construction of a text that one wants to send to a girlfriend.
”Nah, she will be drunk with her friends.” He says. ”I need to add something.”
”What about when she was sick?”
”Yeah.” He says wistfully. ”When she needed me the most.”
I stop listening. The couple sitting across from me are being cute. He has his arm around her and her head is resting on the part between his shoulder and chest.
Songs to listen to as your uterus walls self-clean
28 Days – U.S. Girls
Crimson Wave – Tacocat
Shark Week – Hand Job Academy
On the Rag – Pulsallama
Heavy Flow – Toast
My Red Self – Heavens to Betsy
Happy and Bleeding – PJ Harvey
Period Piece – Lena D
My Puss – Margaret Cho
Shark Week is at Enough Space from January 15 to January 31. tsuno.com.au/pages/shark-week-art-exhibition