Artists Kat Cutler-MacKenzie and Ben Caro discuss their collaborative work, O.o.o.h! , a semi-pedagogic, semi-absurd investigation into the menstrual cycle inspired, in part, by the thought of philosopher Graham Harman and the photographs of Rafal Miłach.
We share a collaborative artistic practice that draws upon techniques from experimental archaeology — in which found objects are re-cast or re-performed to unlock tacit histories, as well as pedagogic methods of communication — such as the 35mm slide lecture or ‘lecture performance’. As we are also both trained art historians, with a combined background in archaeology, cinema, historic reenactment, and feminist theory, our artworks can be understood as a form of practice-based research.
Our most recent project O.o.o.h! is a semi-pedagogic, semi-absurd investigation into the menstrual cycle. It takes as its starting point the egg to explore the analogue relationship between bird anatomy, women’s bodies and cosmic bodies, such as the moon.
Object Oriented Ontology, known to philosophers as O.O.O, as a research methodology within the arts
In 2018, the American philosopher Graham Harman wrote a sort of treatise on the relationship between human and non-human bodies entitled Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. In his book, Harman defined this “new theory of everything”, O.O.O, as that which “rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of non-human objects”. He asked us to think from within the object, or at least to acknowledge that humans are, perhaps, not the most important bodies on Earth. He asked us to challenge our subject-oriented perception of the world, to think in a way that we may call “illogical”, to seriously consider the world through human-object relations. He asked us to think in, with, and about the space in between.
Critics asked: can we think from the object if we are thinking the object from within the subject? We replied: it’s not about the subject and the object, per se, it’s about the space between the two (three, four, five, six…). It is not about knowing the object. O.O.O is about the space between. It is a relationship, a resistance, a communication.
analogue: something that is similar or comparable to something else, either in general or in some specific detail: something that is analogous to something else — historical analogues to the current situation
Adapting performative approaches from within the tradition of experimental archaeology, we began to map eggs onto our own bodies. This very quickly surfaced analogue conversations regarding ovaries, menstruation, and their connection to that other, celestial egg: the moon. We photographed these mappings, which sat in our visual field, lived with us, and made us see, as if anew, the images that surrounded us. Most importantly, Rafal Miłach’s photographs of the abortion rights protests in Poland, 2020. The visual language of these protests consisted of ovaries, hand gestures in the shape of a cervix, the colour red, and bold, eye-catching graphics that forced a too often hidden set of experiences to the fore of public debates. Who knew that we could talk about menstrual blood, about that abject expulsion that drips from so many humans’ bodies? Would we have had these conversations if we had not created a visual field for which words could be found to explore these ideas? Was there more that we were not speaking about? Did we, as a duo of one male and one female artist, really understand the menstrual cycle?
Did your teacher ever tell you that an ovary is an egg-bag? Or that an egg-bag is a bright orange, Soviet Era carry case that can hold 20 chicken eggs?
Once we had confirmed that our understanding of the menstrual cycle was base-level at best, we decided to re-approach this bodily process from the point of view of the egg, the moon.
birds keep their eggs in a string like a row of pearls they are born with over 1,0oo,0oo eggs
they keep them in a little bag
We used studio photography to produce a series of photographs that explored each stage of the average menstrual cycle, using an Estonian Soviet Era egg-bag to investigate this process on an egg/human scale. We then set these photographs into a carousel slide projector, which afforded us two rotations of the menstrual cycle, give or take a few days for weird bodily things to take place.
The slide projector was used for educational purposes throughout the latter half of the twentieth-century, and for our parents was one of the ways in which they first learnt about the menstrual cycle, if at all. In fact, it has an aura of authority about it — the slide projector is a professorial machine. It is a cyclical object, with a cyclical story to tell.
Furthermore, the slide lecture asks that you trust its gaps. Between each image is a pause, a relationship, a juxtaposition. It is the communication between two objects or images or ideas to make meaning. It sometimes projects upside-down, front-to-back, stops, jams, overheats. It can be a dysfunctional body, with a dysfunctional cycle, which seemed to us to pretty accurately correlate to the relationship between the human body and the menstrual cycle.
So where do we go from here?
Our next project is entitled Mineral Bodies, and builds upon O.o.o.h!, as well as a slide installation that Ben made this year in conversation with Martin Creed’s marble staircase Work No.1059. We have begun to film the mineral, stone, marble, plaster bodies and their fragments that are held within our local museum, the National Museum of Scotland. The project will expand outwards to look at the bodies of those makers: their hands, eyes, fingers, toes, and breaths that these works have, over centuries, originated from. Is their body mineral too? Have they been fragmented by the stone? What does a living, breathing, mineral body look like? Is it a statue or a stonemason? Could it be both? We are currently working with moving, 16mm film stock to help us to propose, investigate, and perhaps answer, these questions.
About Ben Caro and Kat Cutler-MacKenzie
Ben Caro (b. London, 1998) and Kat Cutler-MacKenzie (b. Belfast, 1997) share a collaborative artistic practice. Both graduated with an MA Fine Art from The University of Edinburgh in 2021, during which they exhibited in Trading Zone at Talbot Rice Gallery (Kat 2018, Ben 2019). Kat is an artist and editor, whose current research focusses on the role of historical reenactment in contemporary art and the olfactory history of gender in the twentieth century. Ben is an artist and writer, whose current research focusses on the role of inter-generational narratives in contemporary art and sculptural interventions into celluloid film. Together, they are currently working towards a multi-channel cinematic installation entitled Mineral Bodies, to be exhibited in the RSA New Contemporaries 2023. Their artistic portfolios can be found at: katcutlermackenzie.cargo.site and bencaro.cargo.site.
This piece was commissioned as part of our latest mini-series, Our Body’s Bodies
Everything is written on the body – but what does it mean to write about our bodies in the era of Covid-19? And is it possible to write about bodily experiences in the face of such pervasive and continued violence? Using different modes of writing and art making, Lucy Writers presents a miniseries featuring creatives whose work, ideas and personal experiences explore embodiment, bodily agency, the liberties imposed on, taken with, or found in our bodies. Beginning from a position of multiplicity and intersectionality, our contributors explore their body’s bodies and the languages – visual, linguistic, aural, performance-based and otherwise – that have enabled them to express and reclaim different forms of (dis)embodiment in the last two years. Starting with the body(s), but going outwards to connect with encounters that (dis)connect us from the bodies of others – illness, accessibility, gender, race and class, work, and political and legal precedents and movements – Our Body’s Bodies seeks to shine a light on what we corporally share, as much as what we individually hold true to.
Bringing together work by artistic duo Kathryn Cutler-MacKenzie and Ben Caro, author Ayo Deforge, poet Emily Sweetenem, writer and poet Elodie Rose Barnes, writer and researcher Georgia Poplett, writer and researcher Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou and many others, as well as interviews with and reviews of work by Elinor Cleghorn, Lucia Osbourne Crowley and Alice Hattrick, Lucy Writers’ brings together individual stories of what our bodies have endured, carried, suffered, surpassed, craved and even enjoyed, because…these bodies are my body; we are a many bodied being. Touch this one, you move them all, our bodies’ body.
We also welcome pitches and contributions from writers, artists, film-makers and researchers outside of the Lucy Writers’ community. Please enquire for book reviews too.
For submissions relating to trans and non-binary culture email firstname.lastname@example.org
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For reviews, non-fiction submissions and general enquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org
Submissions are open from 6 January 2022 until late March 2022.
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Feature image: O.o.o.h!, 35mm slide projection, 81 colour slides, 172cm x 185cm x 350cm, installation at Rhubaba Gallery and Project Space, 2021