How do you deal with nasty Internet commenters -- haters, trolls and other anonymous, soul-crushing hobgoblins? Some of us don't read the comments. Others respond. And there's a select few who take those bitter comments and thread them into vaginal knitting. A very, very, very select few, that is.
If you know the name Casey Jenkins, you're likely familiar with the Australian artist's 2013 performance "Casting Off My Womb," which, not before long, came to be known as "Vaginal Knitting." If you aren't sure how one would accomplish such a task, it's actually very simple. Every day for 28 days, Jenkins placed a skein of wool inside her vagina, pulled out the thread and knit with it. If you can't quite visualize it, check out the (quite NSFW) video.
Jenkins' work soon racked up over 6 million views on YouTube. And then the hate started rolling in. All artists must deal with criticism; "vagina artists," however, require an additional layer of thick skin. (For example, Japanese artist Rokudenashiko was arrested as a result of her 3D-printed "pussy" boat.) Jenkins' commenters ranged from unimpressed amateur critics to flagrant misogynists. "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little," one read. "Seems more of an attention seeker to me." "She needs psychological help ... "
Jenkins' wasn't all that surprised by the negative backlash she received, even from women. "Shame is an incredibly powerful force for maintaining and enforcing prevalent attitudes," she explained in an interview with Vanessa de Largie for The Huffington Post.
"It's fascinating because those targeted by it often seem to be engaged most actively in its perpetration; perhaps as a way of trying to personally avoid the most hurtful direct impact of the shaming they align themselves with the status quo. Menstruation is the target of a lot of misogynistic attitudes. The fact that those who might be hurt by misogyny are taking part in the shaming is an indication of how deeply entrenched it is in the world today."
Well, sorry to tell you, trolls, but Jenkins is not backing down. In fact, the artist is weaving the angry comments she's received into her upcoming work, which also involves knitting from the va-jay-jay. This time, using a hacked digital knitting machine bought on eBay, Jenkins will knit some of her most recurring comments into woolen canvases. Also, she dyed the wool with her period blood.
"I’ve been screen-capping and saving the comments in files with titles like ‘WTF,’ ‘Crazy,’ ‘Nuts,’ ‘Mental Illness,’ ‘Gross/Disgusting,’ ‘Not Art,’ ‘She Should Be Shot,’ ‘LOL,’ and ‘I’m Gonna Knit From My Ass,'" Jenkins said in an interview with Hyperallergic. "The repetitious nature of the comments, I think, gives insight into how group-think operates on the internet as well as the power of major media outlets to lead and shape online discussion."
The bold performance artist is not the first to incorporate internet backlash into the work itself. The late photographer Wyatt Neumann documented a cross-country road trip with his 2-year-old daughter Stella, including shots of the young lady in princess dresses and sometimes nothing at all. When trolls attacked the work as "perverse" and "pornographic," Neumann responded by hanging angry comments alongside his carefully framed photographs as part of an exhibition aimed to spark dialogue around innocence, the sexualization of children, and the difficulties of raising a young daughter as a single dad.
Like Neumann, Jenkins hopes to call out her haters and bring their comments out from the anonymous depths of the comments section. "Knitting those comments using my menstrual blood is both sticking my finger up at and paying homage to those commentators," Jenkins told Hyperallergic. "I imagine people who filled feeds calling me disgusting and gross will find it quite galling, and that does give me a certain sense of delight."
You and me both, Jenkins.
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