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.
Jerwood Space: 12 March 2014 – 27 April 2014
CCA Glasgow: 4 April 2014 – 21 April 2014
Commissioned for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: What Will They See of Me? A collaboration between Jerwood Arts and FVU. In association with Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. FVU is supported by Arts Council England.