Australian Video Art Archive

Catherine E. Bell


This Little Piggy...Fades to Pink

00:05:36; 00:04:55; 00:05:07 (Three channel projections) 2003

Working as a nanny in Britain for two years was an experience that subverted my understanding of motherhood and this age-old British profession. I experienced long periods of sole care while the parents went on holidays abroad. Other times it would be impossible to separate the children from their mother while she would work from home, taunting the boys with her inaccessibility. It became clear to me that I was employed as a human obstruction preventing the children from attaining contact with their mother. An unforgettable reminder of this sensation came from the eldest of the two boys. Only eight years old, he was able to express in rage the most profound emotion, “I hate you when mummy’s here and I love you when she’s not”. My romantic perception of the nanny, magically ingrained from childhood films such as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, became tainted. These sentiments were tempered by unnerving times when nannies were on trial for killing the children in their care and programs like Nannies from Hell were being aired on television. Nannies were under suspicion and this resulted in an acute awareness of how I interacted with the children. Hence I imagined I was under surveillance at all times. This experience informs the performance; however an awareness of being watched does not inhibit the activities under taken.

This performance explores the gamut of emotions this job conjured, attachment and aloofness, trust and betrayal, protection and endangerment, domination and submission, control and freedom. The chainmail costume worn during the performance acts as a physical barrier between the piglet and myself and symbolizes the emotional distance and neutrality required as a nanny. This armour discourages the piglet’s instinct to suckle and search for bodily warm. The arm and chest guards that make up the suit are worn by butchers in the livestock industry to protect themselves from the blades of knives and saws while carving up animal carcasses.

The three works are designed to be projected simultaneously and then fade to a pink screen. The opening maternal scene shows me nestled alongside the newly born piglet inside the animal enclosure, where I manage to nurse the hysterical piglet to sleep. There is a mood of sorrowful detachment as the piglet in the midst of its slumber is gently unwrapped from its blanket to expose its sex. The second sequence symbolizes the sinister, deviant maternal where there is an element of violence and danger. This scene is shot in a dark room and the piglet is shaved with my grandfather’s sling back razor. The third scene shows the piglet in the laundry sink and could be interpreted as symbolizing the washing away of guilt and redemption through cleansing.

This trilogy is a voyeuristic insight into the psychology of the subject disturbed and haunted by past experiences. It documents the journey into the liminal phase and gives definition to the self by seeing the self alongside or in opposition to the other, such as women who kill or abusive mothers. The piglet acts as a substitute to project the social agendas of normalcy and deviance in relation to the position of care givers in our society. Through performance this ambivalence is not resolved but acts as a mechanism for the redress of social tension that such abominable acts exacerbate.
- Catherine Bell

DVD available.