'What's the issue with the bathroom?'
That is the question Jenny Keane, a PhD student at the University of Ulster, had after her search for recurring imagery in horror movies turned up bathroom after bathroom. Her response to the question is Abluo, a video installation that can be seen at the Belfast Platform for the Arts, which can be found at the end of Queen Street nearest Castle Court, from March 1 – 10.
The bathroom is a familiar setting to any horror fan. Movies such as The Shining, What Lies Beneath and, perhaps most famously, Psycho all contain an iconic bathroom scene. So do other less well-known contributions to the genre.
There is the obvious interpretation. The bathroom, even more than the bedroom, is the room where you at your most vulnerable and easiest hurt. Where you are most likely to get caught with your pants down, so to speak. Yet the victims in these iconic bathroom scenes are almost always women.
Keane is no stranger to horror. Although she isn't a fan - 'I enjoy them sometimes, but they aren't my genre of choice' - she uses stills from horror in her Lick Drawings series. The stills are drawn onto paper and then Keane licks away the most monstrous element in the image. Both erasing and, since her tongue bleeds during the licking process, literalising the horror.
Something about the pervasiveness of the bathroom scene, however, inspired her to explore it in a different way, using video instead of performative art.
‘There are so many people who think that horror has a positive image of women,’ Keane says, leaning forward intently. ‘Particularly this idea of the Final Girl.’
The Final Girl in horror is exactly what it sounds like, the one girl out of a group of friends who survives whatever horrors has been stalking them. It used to be her survival was quite clearly attributed to her avoiding the pitfall of premarital sex. As Keane says, it isn’t a very positive message.
Films today rarely make the connection between non-virginity and death at the hands of a serial killer quite so blatant. Instead, the Final Girl is packaged in a way that uses traditionally male imagery. She is portrayed as strong, but it isn’t a particularly feminine strength.
‘She’s just female because she’s pretty,’ Keane says.
So, does the imagery Keane uses in her installation represent the horror genres true idea of femininity? Nothing but a naked victim in a bath? It is rarely that simple to dissect the attitudes that inform an entire genre, but it is certainly one representation.
Abluo, however, is not just a statement on the woman in horror. Keane also uses the difference between video, as an art form, and film, as a way of packaging a narrative, to trap the viewer in the moment.
‘I don’t like this idea of narrative where, in terms of horror, it starts with “Oh, something is going to happen”, something happens and then the conclusion is “Everything is OK”. It’s always restoring the harmony at the end of the film.
‘With video installation, for me, it’s about keeping you in that loop of never restoring anything. It is always the sense of being within the moment, within the space.’
The Final Girl gets to the end of the movie, but Abluo's woman in a bath is never going to get out.
Abluo is at Belfast Platform for the Arts from March 1 - 10.