Marianna Simnett is a London-based multimedia artist, whose practice merges performance art, video, watercolour, and installation art. Through these media, Simnett questions gender expectations by deploying her body as a site of experimentation, in which her hypnotic fantasies are played out.
Solo exhibitions and commissions include the forthcoming FACT, Liverpool (2019) and the Frans Hals Museum, Amsterdam (2019), as well as the New Museum, New York (2018), Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt (2018), Zabludowicz Collection, London (2018) and Matt’s Gallery, London (2017).
Having said so, Simnett’s work appears to be reminiscent of Ancient Greek narratives of female madness, generally rendered with the word mania (e.g. Greek poet Homer personifies madness as a feminine entity).
‘Faint with Light’ (2016) records Simnett witnessing a series of fainting attacks through hyperventilation. The strobing lights combined with the soundscape, created by the artist’s choked gasps, bring the viewer to the edge by stimulating a reflection on the volatile borders between consciousness and unconsciousness, life and death.
With this installation, Simnett uses the body as a medium and a material to lay bare its limits by reaching the breaking point. Largely inspired by structuralist-materialist filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs and performers such as Vito Acconci, Simnett has always been interested in “revealing the skin behind the skull”, the anatomical component of performance art.
“Faint with Light comes from a story of trauma”, the artists says, recalling the experience of the Holocaust and seeking to make apparent the impossible gulf between the artist’s pain (or lack thereof) and somebody else’s pain. Is pain a part of the process or just an outcome?
Within this installation, fainting could be seen as a self- preservation mechanism, something about saving oneself, a sort of absence, evoking euphoric feelings. Hence this work does not seek a cognitive type of viewing, bur rather a visceral, empathetic connection between the artist and the viewer.
‘The Needle and the Larynx’ (2016) is a video parable which features the artist undergoing an invasive procedure: a voice surgeon was asked to inject her cricothyroid muscle with Botox. The surgery is usually reserved for men who want to deepen their voices.
“I’m telling stories, and my story isn’t about butchering myself to pieces. Transformation is much more my message than amputation—transformation is through and through my work. Everyone is always becoming something other than themselves.” (Interview with Artsy)
Footage of the procedure is accompanied by a fable of a girl who desires to have her voice lowered and menaces the unwilling doctor with a plague of mosquitoes, should he decline to operate.
Beyond the orchestrated setting, Simnett’s work exudes a sense of rawness, viscerality, evoking a fluid approach to identity and embodiment and creating in-between phenomenological situations that avoid any binary categorisation.