After the first year of living and working in the studio for young artists at MGLC Švicarija, Lea Culetto presents her works in which she exposes taboos and ideas about the female body and the social validation and stigmatisation associated with it.
The building blocks of her work are textiles, her creative process is long and linked to craft, an intimate relationship that the artist constantly recreates, for example by encoding hidden messages in the binary language between knitted stitches in garments or "wearable objects" (cycle Annoying Nuisances, 2021).
In the piece On the Rag, knitting is replaced by screen printing on fabric, tailoring and sewing. The project consists of simple white T-shirts with prints of the artist's menstrual stain on the back. The message is also more direct, decoded, revealed – the intimate act of menstruation passes into the public space and discourse with the imprint of menstrual blood on custom-made T-shirts.
As I look at the imprint of her menstrual blood on the white fabric, I find myself in an indefinable state of awkwardness and feel a barely perceptible sense of shame. The image of the bloodstain awakens a feeling of unease in me and evokes an anaemic memory of a red and blue plastic pendant with the inscription I HAVE PMS AND A GUN. EXCUSE ME, DID YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY? that hung from my apartment keys during my high school days. I think of the innate and age-old belief that a certain kind of (pre-)menstrual behaviour is inherent to my gender, the internal social imperative of the hypersensitive, irritable, neurotic and hysterical person that I am said to inevitably change into every month before I get my period since the age of twelve. Lea Culetto's artworks constantly remind me of my unconscious internalisation of public discourses and norms regarding the female body, my own reproduction of (menstrual) stereotypes and the somatisation of sexual ideologies.
In her creative practice, which ranges from expressionist glamour and kitsch aesthetics to extremely minimalist works, she continuously problematises established social representations of the female body, associated ideals, taboos and stereotypes, each based on her own experiences. In her new project entitled On the Rag, she revisits the taboo of menstrual blood. The project, named after an archaic term for menstruation, is a conceptual continuation of the production of the Cycle of Random Images (2019–), in which the artist supplements abstract images of blood with simple and associative drawings and titles that her menstruating body autonomously imprints on a sanitary pad. However, while the Cycle of Random Images thematises the idea of the body as an autonomous creator and metaphorises menstruation, the menstrual stain in the project On the Rag is neither just a metaphor nor is it used by the artist in its socially accepted, hygienic and hidden form. Rather, it addresses the (in)visibility of menstruation in society, its pathologisation and stigmatisation, by exposing menstrual blood that flows past the pad, through clothing and thus into the public space.
The project consists of wearable pieces made of simple white t-shirts in a longer length with prints of an authentic image of the artist's menstrual stain on the back. By exposing visible menstrual blood on the garment, the artist subverts the image of the unnoticed menstruating woman and hints at the indoctrinated social imperative that tolerates menstrual bleeding which remains hidden, sanitised and invisible as the only acceptable menstruation. Not only does she allude to the lack of real representation of menstrual blood and periods in society through visualisation, but she also verbalises problematic aspects of public discourse on menstruation. The title of the work, which is also called "girl flu" in everyday language, draws attention to the long history of naming menstruation, implying its pathology and contamination, and to the many euphemisms we still persistently use to avoid naming it accurately.
Through the uncompromising visualisation of an unwanted menstrual stain, the artist points out that menstruation is not only an objective biological fact, but that menstrual blood is constantly subject to social interpretation and its negative perception is the result of existing cultural ideals and ideologies. Discriminatory discourses must therefore be identified, named, critically analysed and reframed, and language, be it in words or images, is fundamental in this process: namely, a resolute formulation or depiction of taboos anticipates detabuisation itself, it is not only an act of provocation but an emancipatory gesture. The visitor to MGLC Švicarija is also actively invited to deconstruct menstrual stereotypes – the works that form the vertical installation are not just contemplative art objects, but garments designed to be worn; they can be worn by anyone.
PROBLEMS WITH APPROPRIATION
After the first year of living and working in the studio for young artists at MGLC Švicarija, Lea Culetto presents her works in which she exposes taboos and ideas about the female body and the social validation and stigmatisation associated with it. The building blocks of her work are textiles, her creative process is long and linked to craft, an intimate relationship that the artist constantly recreates, for example by encoding hidden messages in the binary language between knitted stitches in garments or "wearable objects" (cycle Annoying Nuisances, 2021).
In the piece On the Rag, knitting is replaced by screen printing on fabric, tailoring and sewing. The message is also more direct, decoded, revealed – the intimate act of menstruation passes into the public space and discourse with the imprint of menstrual blood on custom-made T-shirts. A sense of discomfort arises on both sides of (all) biological and social genders. Renata Šribar1 describes the unequivocal speech about menstruation only in the context of the gender relation of female subordination as a theoretically obsolete genre. Gender inequality and hierarchical gender relations make it difficult to resist – and the embarrassment of writing about menstruation from a male perspective is unavoidable. I can justify the position of male writing with the reverse alienating effect, when a man cannot identify with an object (i.e. menstruation), cannot directly automate it, he can only place it in a new context and try to appropriate it, thus giving it socio-critical encouragement. Or in Šribar's words: "It is subversion with assumption and instrumentalisation of stigma."2 Such assumption is only effective if it is also personal. I experienced this myself in my childhood when I had to buy sanitary pads for my mother at the local shop. I still remember how embarrassed I was about the purchase. It was even funnier when we plucked the cotton wool out of the same pads and used it to decorate the Christmas tree so that it became white-topped snow. But assumptions can also lead to disturbing extremes, like the testimony of a boy when he saw an advertisement on TV for menstrual pads that promised comfort to women during those days. He enthusiastically declared that he wanted one himself.3 Advertising strategy cannot be contradicted because it is fundamentally manipulative and misleading, both in terms of message (the feeling of comfort and safety) and form (the colour of red blood replaced by blue liquid). Lea Culetto, who has made wearable garments for all genders, takes a more open and gender-equal view. It is up to us men to want and dare to wear them.
1 Renata Šribar: O menstruaciji: telo v diskurzu, diskurz v telesu. Ljubljana: Delta, Društvo za kulturološke raziskave, 2004. pp. 111–112.
2 Ibid. p. 112.
3 Confession of a friend.
Lea Culetto (b. 1995, Trbovlje, Slovenia) completed master's degree at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 2019. Since then she has been working as self-employed intermedia artist in the cultural field. Culetto works in the field of visual arts with a focus on feminist art. Using textiles and mixed media, she creates objects and installations that question ideals, taboos and the so-called image of a "perfect" female body. Her personal experiences often serve as inspiration for new projects.The project deflowered by Lea was shown as a solo exhibition at Miklova Hiša Gallery (Ribnica, Slovenia), Aksioma Gallery Space (Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Ravnikar Gallery Space (Ljubljana, Slovenia). The most recent project Annoying Nuisances was presented in a solo exhibition at Božidar Jakac Gallery (Kostanjevica na Krki, Slovenia). Among others, she participated in various group exhibitions, such as Hej, kje si zdaj? (UGM Studio, Maribor), 40 godina art ljubavi Vlaste Delimar (Škuc Gallery, Ljubljana) and the travelling exhibition Gallery.Delivery (Aksioma Gallery Space, Ljubljana). She collaborates and exhibits with various international festivals such as City of Women, Red Dawns, Lesbian Quarter and Račka Festival. In addition to her exhibitions, Culetto also conducts workshops for young people. Lives and works in Ljubljana.