Marianna Simnett

Selected for the Jerwood/FVU Awards 2014 - 2015, Marianna Simnett used her first-stage development bursary to make the short film The Udder, which was followed up with major new work, Blood.

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Blood 2015
26 minutes 15 seconds
Digital Video

Blood runs thicker than water – which is maybe why it clots and coagulates. Emotions adhere to notions of blood, and what it represents; signifying kinship, invoking destiny; marking the body as a source of vitality or, on occasion, a site of shame. Blood goes deep, and in so doing it can get messy. Marianna Simnett knows this. Her short film, adorned with its deceptively simple title Blood, deals in both its material and its mythological dimensions. Alternating between the confines of a sick-bed and a reverberant mountain landscape (which may be either a cherished memory or a figment of a fevered imagination), the piece pivots on the figure of Isabel, the young heroine of Simnett’s earlier companion work The Udder. Accompanied by her friends Olivia and Molly (who double as phantom emissaries of misbehaving parts of her body), she is also shadowed by Lali, a ‘sworn virgin’ from the north of Albania, who has renounced her biological identity and elected, from an early age, to live life as a man. Lali follows Isabel around with the beady eye of a nanny and the doleful twitchiness of a Gollum. What is Isabel supposed to think of her? Is she a role model of hard-won independence and self-determination? Or a portent of the rocky road that lies ahead when one chooses a different path in life? The children of the village recite schoolroom nursery rhymes, while the men talk darkly of honour. A stranger who has mysteriously arrived on the scene, Isabel seems to be always at the apex of their attentions – admired yet punished on the one hand; accepted and protected on the other. The children of the village gather water in a sieve, while the men raise glasses of raki. What is Isabel supposed to make of them? Are they ghostly hallucinations from the aftermath of a botched operation? Or witnesses to a childhood rite-of-passage that goes back untold generations? Blood is never simple. It goes deep, and in so doing it can get messy.

 

The Udder, 2014
15 minutes, 30 seconds
Single channel video

If childhood is a land of milk and honey, it is also a place of demons and ghosts. In Marianna Simnett’s short film The Udder, the mammary gland of the title doubles as a kind of memory machine that plugs us directly into that heightened, reverberant universe. Shot on a robot dairy farm in rural Sussex, and conjuring extraordinary performances from the people who live and work there, Simnett’s magic-realist tale considers the increasingly technical process of automated milk production as the site of an elemental struggle between the forces of purification and corruption; forces that loom equally large over a much more personal rite of passage, in which halcyon innocence is shadowed and clouded by the uncertainties of puberty. As soon as that threshold is crossed (even as soon as it is suggested), everything changes. Inside this looking-glass world, images sunder and splinter, and words take on double meanings. As the White Queen might have said: the udder is utterly udder, and utterly other – liable to transform, in a moment, from maternal monad to grisly gonad, or shape- shift further into protuberant nose, or phallic appendage. Simultaneously a familiar source of comfort and a disconcerting harbinger of the desires of the flesh, the udder is heavy with symbolism. Proceeding placidly to the place where it is milked, mutely acquiescing to the apparatus that surrounds it, it also invokes our bodies’ relationship to ever-enveloping technology, and the looking-glass landscape it portends: a new land of milk and honey, perhaps, but just as likely a new place of demons and ghosts.

 

The Udder (2014) and Blood (2015) were commissioned for the Jerwood/FVU Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and FVU, in association with CCA, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. FVU is supported by Arts Council England.


Video


Image Galleries

Production Images, ‘The Udder’, UEL

Stills, ‘The Udder’

Jerwood Space, 16 January – 24 February 2014

CCA, Glasgow, 4 - 21 April 2014

Production Images, ‘Blood’, Albania

Production Images, ‘Blood’, UEL

Stills, ‘Blood’

Jerwood Space, 11 March - 26 April 2015

CCA, Glasgow 30 May - 12 July 2015


Audio

Resonance FM talks to shortlisted artists for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards