“Underbelly” by Christine Wilks

Screen capture from “Underbelly” by Christine Wilks. Black background with various grey ominous images in the foreground.
Open “Underbelly” by Christine Wilks

Winner of the 2010 New Media Writing Prize, this work tells the story of women who make their lives by carving stone, be it for artistic sculpture or coal mining. Exquisitely researched historically, pictorially, and ethnographically, it weaves together these distinct strands to cast a spell upon readers who explore its interfaces. Initially, the work offers a video interview about a sculptor, who discusses her art and craft as “reductive” because she chisels away at stone to leave behind the figure of a woman. As the reader explores the space of the poem using the pointer as a kind of light that reveals details in the tunnels under the earth. When triggered by mousing over icons, one can hear either snippets of an interview with the sculptor or poetry read aloud by a commanding voice. Each movement eventually reveals the name and figure of a woman, who tells her story— generally one that places having children in conflict with their careers, be it as artists or miners. The uterine and fetal images that haunt the depths of this poem gesture towards an analogy between a woman’s body and the treasures that lie beneath the earth.

As in some of her other works, Wilks divides the piece into sections that need to be completed before progressing to the next, leading to a climactic scene that uses imagery referenced in the work and the poet’s powerful voice to inform a haunting game. Playing this game leads to reflection on the difficult choices women have to make between having a career and having children, particularly when there are no guarantees their choice will be a fruitful one.

I recommend setting aside a moment when you can focus on this work, dedicating your full visual and aural attention to this carefully crafted immersive experience.

Featured in New Media Writing Prize 2010ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature

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