Underbelly (2010)

Underbelly is an award winning playable media fiction created using Adobe Flash. The work concerns a female sculptor, carving on the site of a former colliery in Northern England. As she carves, she becomes disturbed by various voices and the player/reader is plunged into an underworld of repressed fears and desires about the artist’s sexuality, potential maternity and worldly ambitions, mashed up with the disregarded histories of the 19th century women who once worked underground mining coal.

When I made Underbelly I wanted to speak from the gut, to reach down and dig up something visceral and see how it would play in interactive digital media. In some ways it was in reaction to my previous work, Fitting The Pattern (2008), which is more restrained in tone and style – the not-quite-dutiful daughter’s memoir of her mother, the dressmaker.

In Underbelly I wanted to look at the issue of motherhood for working women from a different angle – from below, from a place of struggle, from the pit of the belly, from inside the problematic association between the female body and the land. The work was inspired by seeing my sister, a sculptor, hand-carving stone on the site of a former colliery, turned into parkland in post-industrial Britain, and my perception of an uncanny correlation with the little-known history of women miners working underground during the Industrial Revolution.

Anything written here is, to borrow a phrase from Underbelly (2010) itself: “A synthesis of my own intuitive response”. I was very fortunate to have sat alongside Christine when she premiered Underbelly as a work in progress at a transliteracy conference before it went on to deservedly win the Poole Literary prize for New Media. In her responses to audience queries it was quite clear that Underbelly was a strong combination of strategic new media authoring techniques but also investigative insight into traditional performance based storytelling, the interior monologue in particular.

The work contains a number of confident vocal performances by the author herself. Some of the imagery employed, for me harkened back to Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the foetus in the womb, and it was he who wrote in his diaries that “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” Underbelly is an assured work from an experienced and talented new media practitioner. One who has deeply explored her engagement with her emerging craft and discovered there a rich seam of creative expression, which she has successfully shared through her work.

Review: Michael J. Maguire