Metamorphosis of the Feminine – The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter and Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith, Rapture, 2001, Bronze, 67 1/4 x 62 x 26 1/2 inches Edition of 3

Kiki Smith, Rapture, 2001, Bronze, 67 1/4 x 62 x 26 1/2 inches
Edition of 3

“It’s a resurrection/birth story; ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a kind of resurrection/birth myth.”

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is a collection of short stories in which Carter re-appropriates the fairy tale in the service of the feminine to re-work patriarchal constructions of gender from within the genre. Female protagonists constantly transgress the boundaries of the patriarchal and the received definition of the fairy tale moral in relation to the feminine (i.e the innocent female child and the sacrificial female). The primary story after which the collection is named is a re-working of Bluebeard by Charles Perrault and was influenced by Carter’s readings of the Marquis De Sade. Carter asserts that Sade “put pornography in the service of women, or, perhaps, allowed it to be invaded by an ideology not inimical to women …” [1]. This extremely brief presentation aims to highlights connections between the representation of female experience in Visual Art and The Bloody Chamber.

Smith is an American Artist who recontextualises the feminine by drawing upon mythology, literature, history, religion, cosmology and what she terms “female superheroes”. The pervasive theme of her work is the transformation or sublimation of innocence through sexual awakening. Embodying the violence and symbolism of the fairy tale the female and the bestial are often interchangeable conveying violent undertones and unnatural sexual couplings. Her figurative and anatomical work of the fragmented body portrays interior organs, musculature, the womb, breast, female biology and fertility processes. The abject appears in a suite of works about bodily fluids and waste. The artist uses her body to construct her images and sculptural forms. Her hair appears in a serial print entitled Bluebeard (1990). Smith’s sculptures of female figures are often portrayed hunched, crawling or crouching on walls, hanging from the ceiling, flayed, bound, eviscerated, spiked, decapitated or dismembered. (For more of Smith’s sculpture see Saatchi Gallery). Personally speaking I feel Smith’s sculptures and deconstructed bodily parts intimating porous boundaries between the interior and exterior speak more directly to the body, the female psyche and the uncanny than her primarily pictographic works. Smith states an interest in the “human attributes we give to animals, and the animal attributes we take on as humans to construct our identity.” (I am also reminded here of Joseph Beuys I like America and America likes me 1974 and more recently the work of contemporary artists Dutton and Swindells The Institute of Beasts )

The symbolic imagery of Smith’s work and its title Rapture, intimates religious, ecstatic and delirious states echoing Carter’s, The Werewolf,  Wolf Alice, The Company of Wolves and The Tiger’s Bride. In all of these stories the bestial and in particular the lycanthropic is woven into the human as an otherness to identity. In The Werewolf, human and wolf masquerade to hide what is perceived to be the true identity of a witch. In Wolf Alice a feral child existing in a twillight between human and wolf restores the identity of another. And in The Tiger’s Bride successive layers of female flesh are removed to reveal a true identity unconstrained by human form.

© Text written by Denise Startin

[1] Deconstructed Masculine Evil in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber Stories by Aytül Özüm

Kiki Smith image and quote reproduced from http://www.pbs.org/art21/images/kiki-smith/rapture-2001

All other Kiki Smith quotes reproduced from http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2003/kikismith/flash.html For a comprehensive overview of the artist Kiki Smith click here.