Three weeks ago I got an email from Fannying Around’s Sarah Berry saying that artist Jamie McCartney was looking for volunteers for a project. Naturally I jumped at the chance.
It was only after I jumped that I actually stopped and thought about what this would involve. You see Jamie was not looking for models to draw or photograph; this was not a video installation or a piece of performance art. No, no. He was after women to model for a nine metre long wall sculpture called The Great Wall of Vagina.
Yep. I got my cunt cast for art.
The wall is made up of ten panels, each featuring 40 plaster casts of vulvas. Well fine, I thought. I can do that. I mean, how hard can it be?
It is this attitude that finds me a week later drinking wine and eating crisps in Sarah’s bedroom with seven women I’ve never met before and a man who is shortly going to be pouring molding clay over my nether regions.
Between casts Jamie comes down to chat and tell us a little bit about himself and the project. It began as means of addressing the anxieties felt by women in a culture where ‘porn pussy’ has become the perceived norm.
“I’d done body casting before of both men and women and noticed how many women felt insecure about the way their vaginas looked,” he explains.
“I realised I was in a unique position to do something about that.”
Thanks to Movember he is currently sporting a handlebar moustache, lending him a retro porn star vibe. But he is quick to point out that this is not erotic art. Its purpose is to educate and inform people about what women really look like and the lack of homogeneity when it comes to vaginas. He has cast women from ages 18 to 76 including mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women, a woman pre and post-natal and another one before and after labiaplasty.
He is currently working on a project with several gynaecologists to raise awareness about female circumcision and genital mutilation. The response over the last few years has been largely positive.
“I get a lot of people saying they’re not sure how they feel about it being a male artist but I’d rather people question it,” he tells me.
“If a woman had done it, it would just be written off as feminist art and there would be no discussion.”
It’s not just discussion he has sparked. Jamie has even had people writing to him to say he’s changed their lives. The sculptures have appeared in sex education texts and he appeared in the first series of Channel 4’s The Joy of Teen Sex, helping a young couple get over their body hang-ups.
For many, getting cast has been a form of therapy on the path to self-discovery. From my point of view, if there was ever a good reason to take your knickers off in public, the education and empowerment of women worldwide seems like it might be it. Plus it’s not every day part of your body gets transformed into art.
My fellow castees feel much the same. Molly, an erotic writer and blogger at Molly’s Daily Kiss says: “Writing my blog brings me into contact with a lot of women. Many of them are insecure about their vaginas. I try to encourage openness and I’m here because I think you have to practice what you preach.”
Annie Player is the founder of Erotic Meet, an online community for writers, artists, photographers, performers and other creative workers in the erotic field. She says: “I think it’s an incredible project and it’s been a kind of therapy for lots of women but in a very accessible way.”
So how does one go about making a cast? Was I going to have to lie back with legs in stirrups while he slathered me in mod roc? I also had visions of awkwardly straddling a tray of papier-mâché. As it turns out, it’s neither… but the experience is still pretty interesting.
This evening’s job is just to take a mold. The actual plaster will come later. With that established, all that’s left for me to do is drop my pants and lie back. So there I am, legs akimbo (more bikini wax than gyno visit FYI) on a mat on the floor. Jamie applies Nivea to stop the clay from sticking – rather like greasing a baking tray, I muse – and then goes to mix the paste while Sarah snaps pictures of me for her blog.
At this point my internal dialogue reads something like this: “Hmm, hmm hmm, this is totally normal. I’m just lying here exposed and covered in cream with a strange man and someone is taking photos of my vagina. That’s all… totally fine.”
Next Jamie slaps on a bright blue paste which is a) cold and b) very dribbly. He has to keep smoothing it up to stop it from sliding off – a process which is strangely pleasant without being remotely erotic. Then it’s just a case of waiting for it to dry so while I sit there covered in blue gunk I decide to put a burning question to him.
“Are you a pervert?”
He laughs. “I’m so much more than a pervert.”
A lot of friends joke that he has the best job ever, he admits. But as he points out, he has cast plenty men in his career as well. And Movember tache notwithstanding, he doesn’t do too badly with the ladies, he assures me. Let’s be honest, these would be quite extreme lengths to go to just to get a look at some muff.
After about five minutes he presses on some casting bandage to give the mold a solid backing before peeling the whole thing off. And there it is: a bright blue inverted vagina, soon to be transformed into a plaster cast in a panel of 39 others.
I will be intrigued to see how mine compares but in the meantime I ask if I can get a copy of the cast. What for, I really couldn’t say (I’m hardly going to put it on the mantelpiece) but it seems somehow pertinent. My body just participated in art. People will see my sculpture and in some small way it might help them. It might not change their lives but they will learn something. And whether anatomical or academic I’m happy to be part of that.