The Artist and The Mermaid—
A digital touring exhibition

Catherine Bell, The Artist and The Mermaid (2020) Black and white film still. Silent film duration: 6 mins. Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery, Melbourne.       

Artists: Catherine Bell

The Artist and The Mermaid” (2020) is a silent film that documents the shared artist residency undertaken by “The Two Cathies” at  Venus Bay 2020. Cathy Staughton and Catherine Bell are artist collaborators and have been each other’s muse since 2009 when they met at Arts Project Australia. The silent film genre has been selected because for a brief time in history, it provided an inclusive experience for the hearing impaired who could fully participate in this popular cultural form as equal members of the audience. 

This silent film is both a documentary and performance artwork. It documents Cathy painting a series of nude portraits of Catherine Bell, while she performs the role of a mermaid that Cathy Staughton  discovers on the beach. The film and portraits explore the ageing female body and bodily difference through this mythological character. The seaside is a site where negative body image is often  experienced, so selecting the beach setting and mermaid guise aims to promote positive images of older women and dispel negative stereotypes of ageing. Mermaids are usually depicted as young women and their transition from sea to land involves surrendering their unique anatomy. Cathy’s acceptance of her mermaid friend’s bodily difference subverts this traditional narrative, and through their creative exchange, promotes body positivity, interdependence and empowerment. 

Artist and Australian Catholic University Associate Professor Catherine Bell is a multi-disciplinary artist, curator and academic. Her art practice explores the role of the artist in the archive and health care setting, art on the margins, socially-engaged and relational approaches to art making, feminist and care ethics in collaborative practice and challenging taboos surrounding death and dying. She is the curator of current NETS Victoria touring exhibition, FEM-aFFINITY, that explores collaborative practice as a feminist mode of production. Catherine has been awarded a 2020-23 Gertrude Contemporary studio. 

A digital exhibition touring with NETS Victoria, curated by Jessica Row and Claire Watson.

This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.