This week we delved a little deeper into e-lit with Christine Wilks’ piece “Underbelly“. I must admit that this is the first piece of e-lit I have ever seen that I wanted to spend hours playing with. It is a fully interactive visceral experience that left me feeling sad and disturbed and also intrigued. It intermixes the plight of early 19th century woman working in coal mines with the story of a female artist who was hired to carve a stone sculpture on the site of a former coal mine. As I delved deeper into the work, more and more women’s stories were revealed – often being told right over the top of one another so my ears were unsure which piece of the chorus of voices to follow. One in particular was a woman who had given birth and was back in the coal mine right away, toiling alongside all of the men. She was weak, and having a hard time keeping up with her duties – being beaten because she wasn’t fast enough. As I was listening to her story it occured to me that some things haven’t changed much for women. Granted, most women don’t work in coal mines, but there are a large number of women (especially in the U.S.) who are forced to go back to work directly after giving birth. I have known several women who could not afford to take family medical leave because it was unpaid and were back to work less than a week after having a child. I was one of the lucky ones. I had eight weeks paid leave after having an emergency c-section with my twins, but even then, I physically had a difficult time standing on my feet for an eight hour shift. I can’t imagine what it might have been like if I hadn’t had the luxury of being able to take eight weeks to recover.
This work is an assault on the senses that quite literally sheds light on these womens’ lives and reproductive choices and challenges. At the end of the “Underbelly” there is a choice: try to get pregnant, leave it to chance, or remain childless. Regardless of the choice I pick, there is a sadness and a compromise…a regret. Is this the ultimate commentary on women and their reproductive lives in general? I suppose it depends on how you read the story and on which choice you make.