PROBING THE FEMININE UNCONSCIOUS
Shot in Scotland during an artistic residency at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, the images of my Soulskin series (2018) probe the Wild Woman archetype* at the heart of the Celtic folktale The Seal Woman. With an air of playful-tragedy, the project continues to examine the initiatory significance of folk and fairy tales in the quest for identity, but on more intimate and mature grounds than my previous work.
Can women exist outside the bonds of marriage? Outside their relationship to husband and children? These questions lie at the heart of The Seal Woman story. Although there exist several versions of this tale, the narrative always revolves around a selkie (a mythological creature said to live as a seal in the sea and take human form on land by shedding its skin). A man makes away with her pelt before gently coercing her into marry him. Although earthly existence allows the woman to experience conjugal and maternal happiness, the call of the sea becomes more and more fervent…
Rather than to illustrate various scenes in the story, my intent is to reveal the symbolic message at work, namely the female psyche’s cycle of loss and recovery, with its share of instinctuality, freedom, and vibrancy. My images explore the metaphorical link between the sealskin and a woman’s powerful inner self, often buried under years and layers of socialization. Just as, in dream interpretation, each character represents a facet of the dreamer, I employ self-portraiture to embody the tale’s different protagonists. Are there not within each woman areas of inhibiting darkness and areas of light that seek to burst forth?
The process of using myself as a model intensified the mise en abymecomponent at play in this project. If I made quips about going to Scotland to retrieve my seal-skin, a shift occurred during my residency between the selkie’s quest and my own. A transfer which, paradoxically enough, led me to don long old-fashioned dresses, heavy and cumbersome. It was as though the search for liberation that underlies the tale unfolded, in my flesh, before the camera. And so emotion is brought to the forefront in tableaux where the heightened romanticism of nature takes on a tinge of the surreal.
*The Wild Woman Archetype refers to the concept developed by storyteller and psychanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves (1992).
I also owe a debt of gratitude to the following institutions that generously facilitated my photo shoots on their grounds:
Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Écosse
Oban Seal Sanctuary, Écosse