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Marianna Simnett, Faint with Light, 2016. Installation view at FACT 2019. Photo: Rob Battersby.

The light and sound installation Faint with Light records Simnett inducing her own body to repeatedly faint, by closing her airway and hyperventilating. The desperate sounds of her rasping for air are played in sync to a rising and falling wall of ultra-bright lights. The intensity of Simnett’s fluctuating breath triggers us to mirror her actions in a perverse act of empathy, foregrounding the fragile border which separates life from death.

The fainting fit, historically labelled a symptom in the construction of hysteria, is transformed here into a powerful act of reclamation. Denying us any image of her body, Simnett de-glamorises the feminine swoon associated with passivity and weakness in a male dominated world. Instead, we witness the rawness of an untamed body as a dizzying intervention which threatens to sabotage repressive codes of behaviour.

The gesture of fainting serves as a motif which carries through Simnett’s entire practice. Faint with Light was provoked by the story of her Croatian grandfather, who survived a mass execution during the Holocaust when he lost consciousness and collapsed in front of a firing line. On numerous occasions, audience members have fainted in response to her work: a haunting reminder of the body’s natural response to the traumatic subject.

Courtesy of the artist.