Artist in Residence 2020: Blood Lines

The St Andrews Centre for Contemporary art is delighted to announce that in spring 2020 it will be co-hosting its first Artist in Residence. Blood Lines: Exploring the History of Menstruation at the University of St Andrews is supported by a university Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) Award, and will be led by Dr Camilla Mørk Røstvik (University of St Andrews) together with Dr Catherine Spencer (University of St Andrews) and artist Bee Hughes (John Moores Liverpool University).

Bee Hughes is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher exploring with embodied experiences of menstruation through performative works that draw upon everyday rituals and routine and the feminist tradition of self-examination. Their work in poetry and sound art explores repetition and menstrual normativity encountered through online medical advice, considering how these frequently visited sites of medical authority now form part of the everyday experience of menstruation. During spring term 2020, Hughes will conduct three visits to St Andrews, and together with Røstvik and Spencer, explore various aspects of menstrual history in the town at a time when Scotland is leading the world on menstrual policies via its Period Poverty initiative.

The menstrual cycle is an everyday occurrence, yet it is also historically a surprisingly under-researched topic. Recently, however, there has been a dramatic rise in both scholarly and public attention to menstrual culture. The Scottish Government’s 2017 Period Poverty campaign has sought to change the way people relate to menstruation, but no research provisions are in place to track changes in behaviour or attitudes. Furthermore, no research about menstruation in St Andrews has ever taken place, despite the current historic roll out of free products on campus. Blood Lines is designed as a holistic intervention during this critical moment, seeking to understand the attitudes in the town, providing evidence of change (or lack thereof) connected to the new policy, and, through collaboration with the artist, creating a positive and lasting legacy for the town. We seek to create connections between artistic production and policy makers, sharing this research with them and showing how it can raise awareness, enable discussions, and in turn feed-back into policy-making.

Menstruation affects cisgender women, trans and non-binary folk in many practical and emotional ways, as well as having specific cultural and religious significance for many different groups. By providing evidence-based research of historic and current attitudes, as well as an artwork exploring these, Blood Lines seeks to start a positive conversation about menstruation at the University and beyond. We plan to work with the Estates Cleaning team tasked with rolling out the Period Poverty policy on campus and with the University Libraries and Special Collections; to document the historic activism by student  groups campaigning for access to free products (the Feminist Society, LGBTQ+ Society and various sports groups); and discuss community needs with the St Andrews food bank tasked with rolling out the policy in the town. Through this, Blood Lines will support research into a taboo and under-explored topic in St Andrews (and elsewhere) at a timely moment when evidence about the roll out of the Period Poverty policy is urgently needed, provide evidence for menstrual history in the town, and create a lasting legacy for the project in the form of a work of art.

Our current banner image is from Hughes’s work Dys-men-o-rrho-ea (2019): performance documentation, digital photographs with thanks to Milos Simpraga. This was a private performance aiming to make visible the physical and emotional discomfort, pain, and dislocation created by severe period-related pain. The performances produce a number of artefacts in the form of body prints on paper which contain fragmented medical texts and are documented in video, with a series of photographs taken at the session.

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