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The Udder, 2014

Set on a small automated dairy farm in West Sussex, The Udder draws parallels between the control of mastitis, a painful bacterial disease that infects bovine mammary glands and breastfeeding women, and notions of female virtue and moral corruption. The film is told from the point of view of the udder, which is given voice by the characters who live and work on the farm, and personified by Isabel, an archetype of angelic childhood innocence on the cusp of puberty.

Simnett plays with symbols of sexuality, beauty, purity and morality, drawing parallels between body parts so that a teat can be linked to a tongue, a phallus, a thumb, or a nose: queering the subject of the female breast as it becomes contaminated with images that defy binary categorisation.

A story of animal hygiene, to keep pure the milk we ingest, is layered into a densely woven narrative about the female subject and exercises of control, revealing societal pressures and also those within the family home. Alluding to the necessity for women to endure violence and maintain their desirability, the work invokes the legend of St. Æbbe: who, to protect her chastity, disfigured herself in response to the threat of rape. In The Udder, Isabel cuts off her own nose to stave off the oncoming threat of disease. Through this allegorical tale, Simnett re-examines the contemporary gendered subject, indulging in a macabre story of transgression.

Courtesy of the artist and Jerwood/FVU Awards.