With Simnett, it’s hard to know what to believe—what’s imaginary, what’s real, what’s real-ish. “I start learning about the nervous system of cockroaches, or voice conditions like spasmodic dysphonia or puberphonia, and that informs an almost science-fiction, invented illness that I then start to manifest,” she explained. “But it comes out of rigorous research and conversations with doctors and surgeons.”
For her 2016 work The Needle and The Larynx, Simnett personally endured Botox shots to her vocal chords, which temporarily lowered her voice’s pitch. The artist originally considered an invasive surgery that would have made the change permanent. Even the Botox treatment was a bit of a tough sell at first. Initially, the doctor she wanted to work with didn’t understand why she would want such a procedure. “Then he was like, ‘Ah…so you subject yourself to things,’” Simnett recalled.
Part of what makes the artist’s work feel so moving—at least to this permanently worried writer—is the way in which she captures the creeping anxieties of simple physical existence. Being human means being vulnerable, unprotected, precarious. Turning yourself over to a doctor’s care can be comforting: There’s a handing-over of responsibility, “submitting yourself to someone else’s control,” as Simnett put it. There is a ritual and a protocol to doctor’s visits that can be soothing, however drenched in fear. The X-ray jacket comes down, the ultrasound wand makes its tickling progress. Hopefully, your leg does not explode.