Review: ‘There’s a Special Place in Shell…’, Foote & Mouth

GSA Exhibitions invited GSA PhD student Dawn Worsley to review the performance, ‘There’s a Special Place in Shell…’, Foote & Mouth, 27 April 2016, Reid Auditorium, Glasgow School of Art. All photos of performance by GSA FAP student Jack McCombe:Shell1

The literal demonising of women and the feminising of mythological monsters is as old as patriarchy itself. Man born of woman, must gender his masculinity by quashing femininity. Women, wanton and insatiable, had to be controlled and their high-pitched opinions needed to be silenced. So women’s sexuality and their voice, and thus their power, was stolen, distorted and distilled into the form of supernatural females, as a warning to men and a reminder to women. But what potent creatures arose from masculine dread!

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Kathryn Ashill and Monica Foote, GSA alumni, discovered their mutual affinity for folklore and began a collaboration to reclaim the banshee and the siren from misogyny and satirise a pop-industry populated by male producers and their fetishised fembot creations.

An animated nautilus shell spirals hypnotically, a whirlpool or a stairway to a watery hell, grinding like rolling storm clouds or cobbles on the shoreline, calling the audience to their seats.

Ashill’s banshee is a second-wave feminist with the potential to go postal. The banshee of folklore arrived amidst the sound of flapping wings, foretelling death, whilst the more vengeful sort, eyes burning with rage and sorrow, emitted a murderous scream. Ashill’s labour-pang owl-screeches sear the soul and I believe a prolonged banshee-wailing really could induce an aneurism.Shell3

Classical sirens were angry birds with women’s heads and breasts. Their appeal more auditory than visual, lulled sailors into a fatal sleep or stirred suicidal yearnings with their melancholic song. A coquettish neo-feminist, Foote’s siren is out to net herself some sea-faring menfolk. Turning to the audience, she puns, ‘It’s raining men … seamen’, raising a giggle whilst mocking that masculine suspicion that women are after one thing – their seed.

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Reappropriated Motown arm-flailing, pop lyrics and samples subvert the sexualised and sanitised music industry. Foote & Mouth’s creations are not the 2D gendercidal bird-women of tradition. They are whole women, taking ownership of their bodies and voicing their own narratives.

Dawn Worsley (2016)

Below: Foote & Mouth publicity image

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