by Barry Simner
Film & TV Writer (UK)
I feel very fortunate to have seen something so wonderful on a chilly March afternoon in mid Wales. I’d driven through the hills never expecting to arrive in the middle of a ceremony so touching – a real rite of spring in a small Welsh town. I wasn’t sure if I was coming into the beginning of something or the end. What I was aware of was that the gallery had become a sacred place but also a menacing one. The two creatures (part women, part animal) seemed in great distress: breathless, weeping, crying out and yelping like animals in pain. Hysterical in the true sense of that term. I am reminded of the folk belief that the uterus wandered around the female body causing symptoms like breathlessness, anxiety, fainting and insomnia.
Had these women been born fully-formed with those strange manes in that too-small red nest / womb? Perhaps I was watching their distress at coming into a world that was more like a prison cell. They might have been bloody with afterbirth. I wished I’d arrived earlier so I could orientate myself better. Not that I minded the feeling of ambiguity and not knowing. In fact, I relish it – finding one’s way in someone else’s world is what we demand from art.
But as time went on, I found a narrative emerging in what was obviously a ritual, or some sort of ceremony / sacrament. At first, these women seemed to be unrelated, not connected to one another or even able to acknowledge the other’s presence. After that painful period of wailing and frantic clawing struggle to escape from what felt like a stone cell, there came a beautiful calmness. They took care of one another, and the caring was very beautiful. I didn’t need to understand the symbolism involved in the ‘casting’ of the breasts on damp paper, because the image was so tender. I was very moved and didn’t want to leave.
It was only after the gallery was closing and I was being urged out that I began to pay attention to ceremonial objects surrounding the women – the bowls, the red thread, the scissors, and that threatening knife that had hung there throughout. I wondered too about those bared breasts (how could I not?) – an Amazonian image suggesting a provocative vulnerability in the face of whatever powers this rite was honouring or placating. There’s a horrible instrument that I once saw illustrated in an old woodcut showing various methods of torture. In one, a man was holding a pair of breast-sized shears in front of a naked woman. The loss of a breast is very potent in our society, but here we found a cherishing and a replication. The ‘casting’ was extraordinary, tender, loving and gentle. And the sewing of the casts onto the nest seemed to give a sense of solidity and a sort of armour. I was reassured by this armour and solidity because there was a very real sense of threat and menace and horror in this world. The red slashed robe vestments constantly covering and exposing unhealed and bleeding scars.
Thank you for giving such a feast of powerful and provocative images, gestures and movements. ‘Nest’ is a wonderful piece of work by two committed and brave artists. It will continue to resonate with me for a long time to come.
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