Marianna Simnett is renowned for her self-reflexive practice, which she infuses with provocation and a dark sense of humor. Working across myriad mediums, Simnett creates films, drawings, and performances that draw on fantasy to probe modern-day mythology, the ubiquity of violence, and the potential for bodily transformation.
On multiple occasions, Simnett has taken up autobiographical fragments from her personal history, expanding these germinations into a suite of drawings or a performance. Faint with Light (2016)—one of Simnett’s most highly lauded works—is a monumental light and sound installation conceived around audio documentation of the artist inducing her own fainting by hyperventilation and asphyxiation. Simnett learned the technique through online video tutorials, dipping into the underground world of “the choking game,” a pastime often embarked upon by young men seeking out a drug-like high. However, Simnett’s motivation to create Faint with Light follows a vastly different trajectory. Simnett draws on the lived experience of her late Jewish Croatian grandfather, who survived execution during the Holocaust when he suddenly fainted. Referencing an almost supernatural act of survival, Faint with Light is a reminder that our fate sits on a knife-edge. In the installation, Simnett’s breath is visualized by a monumental wall of LED lights that are animated by the desperate sound of Simnett’s strenuous, rapid-fire breathing, which chronicles four cycles of her collapse and revival.
In an interview with Spike magazine, Simnett stated, “There is a plausibility in fantasy. I think the imagination is a vital tool to build new worlds and possibilities.” Simnett’s commingling of myth and modern life is so vivid that it conjures a sense of the transhistorical, pointing to our contemporary absence of symbolic registers. The Bird Game (2019) is a foreboding film that follows the protagonist, a female crow, as she leads a group of children to play a game after promising the prize of sleeplessness. Each child is gruesomely killed off in a series of violent and eroticized games that reference fairy tales and legends. A meditation on cycles of abuse, the film concludes with the crow revealing her own painful history, thereby destabilizing binaries of innocence and guilt. The Bird Game is imbued with a gothic aura of childish wonder; with it, Simnett virtuously brings to life an allegory of sickness, trauma, and metamorphosis, while employing the gloss and magic of contemporary cinema.
Having moved to Berlin in late 2020, Simnett’s residency at Callie’s comes during a pivotal transition for the artist. During her residency, Simnett is focusing on several projects of varying scope. These include a watercolor series based on bestiality and zoophilia for an upcoming exhibition at London’s Drawing Room, as well as a 16mm stop-frame animation and sculptures for an exhibition at Castello di Rivoli in 2021. Simnett has recently begun to further her explorations in the medium of sound, and is developing her debut EP of electronic music. Taking inspiration from Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas’s 1993 project The Shop, Simnett has also begun her own mini commercial enterprise entitled Der Laden within her studio at Callie’s. Offering original drawings and limited edition objects for direct purchase, Der Laden posits a new way of relating to both art market and audience.