The grotesque, she writes, is inherently associated with the feminine—bodied, earthy, changeful. That thinking has long shaped depictions of the female body, including archetypes of sexual or environmental threat, like prostitutes, femmes fatales, and sorceresses. Even centuries before the term emerged, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle “advanced the influential argument that a woman’s body is monstrous by nature, a deviation from that of the normative male,” she writes.
The term is fertile, opening up a womb-like space for new ideas and ethical conundrums to accumulate—a conduit through which cultures can play with taboos and shift the parameters of mores and conventions. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that some of the artists touching the grotesque assume a childlike, fairytale language. A fable tells us what is right and wrong, Simnett pointed out when we met. It is also “a game that you can write the rules for,” she said, one through which you can distort or expand reality. The landscape of morality tales and childhood lessons is ripe territory for boundary-pushing perversions to take root.