Matty Mancey

25rd June - 9th July 2019

Mother’s Gut, 2019. Video, 09:47.

Using the human micro-biome as the stage for the United Kingdom, specifically Yorkshire, we follow a girl accidentally ingest herself and travel through her gut. She is transformed on her journey by encounters with fearful, apathetic and aggressive bacteria. The film plays on fears of foreign bodies invading us and our country. It is a child's fantasy of their mother's journey to a new unfamiliar land, made more uncanny and dreamlike with the use of classic special effects and a sci-fi experimental soundtrack.

Full Interview

Georgie Brinkman (Curator, The New Flesh): To begin, please could you introduce your work and give us an overview of some of the ideas or research areas that are driving the work?

Matty Mancey: My name is Matty Mancey and my most recent work is a film called ‘Mother’s Gut’, which is about a girl accidentally swallowing herself and taking a journey through her digestive system. The concept for the film came about when I learnt that of all the cells that make up our body only 10% of them are human and the rest are bacterial, fungal and parasitic. I like the idea that there’s this whole ecosystem inside of you. I wanted it to seem less like being inside a body and more like a journey into a world where you enter factories, caves and sewers.

GB: Could you talk a little bit about the use of costume this piece? For example, were they made by you or did you collaborate with a designer? And how much did the costume help to form the work?

MM: I made of all of the costumes by myself for this film. I learnt to felt to make the creatures at the start. I made felted hoods, and then used the same cotton to cover their faces. I wanted them to look like they were little fluffy bits of mould that was growing on food.

Although the production design was the most important part, it was the longest film I’d made yet so I didn’t have that bigger budget. Usually I like to work with silicone and latex, but they were a bit too expensive, so instead I chose to use common household goods like marigolds and disposable aprons, and lots of food - lots of jam! But it was a really interesting experience just having to work with either found or recycled materials instead of being able to make things from scratch.

GB: Having that kind of restriction is quite good sometimes, isn’t it? Using mainly domestic objects can add another kind of dimension to the film because people can relate to it. For example with the characters that are bacteria, using the marigolds can help the viewer understand the idea of cleaning very easily.

MM: Yeah, it was good using all of the domestic materials because female labour was a running theme in the film so having this overlap with the materials worked well.

GB: Do you see a difference between the props and the costumes?

MM: That’s a good question! With the props and the costume, and even the sound design, I want all of it to seem like it’s the same matter. So a lot of the materials in the costume bleed into the set - the jam will be covering the sides of the cave, or the conveyor belt will be covered in it as well. And all of the foley is using food. So I want there to be a sense that the matter is all of the same importance.

GB: What role does costume play within the rest of your practice?

MM: Usually the character or the costume comes before the concept for the film, so it really is the central part, and it is from that that a story will arise. It’s how I work best because I work in a very visual way, so putting together all of these materials and seeing somebody come to life as a different creature, that how it works for me.

GB: It seems like you see costume as a kind of aesthetic element in the work that is almost painting the work itself. So rather than working with other designers to get, for example, historical accuracy, you see costume as a kind of sculptural or painterly aspect to your work?

MM: My background is painting and I have only been working with film in the last year and half. I think the jump towards costume, and to film, was originally more of a sculptural choice and because of my interest in prosthetics and special effects. I’m interested in the kind of illusion that film provides, for example you might never see the back of somebody’s head because they are wearing a mask. And with my films, because there is no dialogue they are like a moving painting in lots of ways. The production design and aesthetic choice is central, the costume is central to the entire work.

GB: So costume becomes the illusion, and a way of creating a sense of magic rather than depicting something that is true?

MM: Yeah, it really is a lot of fantasy. Although, I don’t want it to be too abstract that you don’t know where you are, I still want it to be situated in the real world, just uncanny and almost real.

GB: Your work seems to reflect on visceral, bodily experience (references to food, bacteria, ingestion, consumption, excretion), so do you consider costume to be an extension of this? In other words are the costumes a way of bringing awareness to the almost grotesque physicality of the body?

MM: The costumes rarely focus on the actual clothes they are wearing - I’ve mostly been interested in prosthetics and masks, and actually transforming somebody into a completely different creature. So for me it was mainly about the body extensions, the hair, the nails. My favourite costume to make was one of the most subtle, which are these metre long curled nails for the elderly couple in the appendix. I think there were in some ways they were the most effective, because when you notice it, it gives this massive sense of time passing. And that was grotesque for sure. But my aim isn’t really to be grotesque. There is a big influence from body horror and classic horror films, and there is gore, but I like the gore to be equally pleasureful and disgusting so you don’t really know where you stand when you watch it. I like to make it more absurd and uncanny, so you don’t really know where you stand looking at these familiar bodies. ‘Mother’s Gut’ is quite a violent film in a way because she is being expelled from her own body, but it also has lots of sensual elements to it.

GB: Writing about 'Mother's Gut' you say that the human micro-biome acts as a 'stage' for the UK, specifically Yorkshire. I take this to mean that the body becomes a kind of landscape or environment, acting as an analogy for wider society. Could you talk some more about this idea and whether you see that as the role of the body in this work?

MM: When she goes inside the body and she comes across all of the bacteria they instantly reject her even though she is part of the same body. They are disgusted with her, and they are scared of her. I thought that it would be funny to make somebody have their own body reject them because when you look at yourself you don’t imagine yourself as an ecosystem, or as a community, you imagine yourself as a whole.

When you then look at the wider world there is this massive separation between yourself, and a lot of the time, your community. There is this wholeness that you feel within yourself, and this individualistic approach in the wider world. I wanted to imagine taking that individualism and placing it inside your own body - making the girl into the “other” within herself. And then letting that play with the current political climate of Brexit, anti-migration, anti-immigration. Even for people who have been here for twenty or thirty years, or been here their entire lives, making them feel as though they are the other in this body or this world, this country.

GB: I would say that you also use costume and prosthetics to comment on the archetypal presentation of femininity, or females. For example you mentioned that your recent research has revolved around witch hunts in Western Europe. Do you see your costumes as a way of challenging the presentation of female identity?

MM: A lot of the characters that I like to look at are clichéd evil women, so you have the witches and the demon girls, and they are all quite powerful and sexually liberated even. I like taking those clichés from horror film and subverting them. So for example in ‘Mother’s Gut’ there is this clichés of a bloody girl crawling around, but I like to imagine that there is a subversion because she is deciding to go on this journey.

But also with my costume I like to create girl-animal hybrids and to play with the way we stereotypically gender creatures, like the fox or the spider. In nature documentaries animals have these heteronormative nuclear family dynamics pushed onto them. Even the smallest, alien creature will have these values pushed onto them. I’m trying to parody that.

GB: Lastly, for you, what is the difference between costume and clothing - when is someone "in costume" as opposed to simply wearing an outfit?

MM: The difference between costume and clothing for me is purely the intention and what the wearer wants to get out of it.

GB: It is interesting when you start to consider things like uniforms, say a police uniform. When you think about wider society are we always all in costume because we dress ourselves and perform our identities?

MM: I guess then maybe it is when the wearer is comfortable. Because sometimes you can see people in the most average, on trend clothes they look like they’re in a costume because they look uncomfortable in themselves. But then on the other side you see people with mad body modification and these flashy outfits, and they look completely comfortable. And you know to them, that’s just clothes.