When we moved into Peach, I brought a manila envelope of photographs that my grandmother had given to me. We spread them out on the floor and I told Anni about fishing with my grandparents and great-grandparents on the White River and in the Sacramento Valley. They hunted and caught their own food, and my great-grandmother was a taxidermist. Anni told me that one of her parents is a gynecologist and her grandparents used to be dairy farmers in rural Finland. She said she didn’t eat fish, she loved bread, and had never swallowed a pill camera.
We stared at the photographs, which were mostly trophy images — hairy fingers cinched around the fragile, gasping bellies of trout and bass. A precarious combination of care and dominance seemed necessary to stabilize the fish for the photograph. A chilly disconnect (or a gentle violence?) between warm and cold-blooded being.
Anni said that in the Netherlands women give birth at home and buy birthing kits, unless they get them through their insurance. It was hard to imagine a paradigm of clinical independence. I thought of lying in hospital rooms, my skin ripped with hardware and tubes, linked to huddling apparatuses and machines. In these spaces I felt myself in a silvery state. A gentle, sleeping fish with soft blue blood, surrendered to the doctor’s endlessly fallible and clammy hands that lifted, prodded and stitched my river-polished skin.
The apartment at Peach was always warm, and Anni defined penetralia for me as a secret architecture, or the innermost private space. We wrote the word with a palatal hook. At night, we would fall asleep to muted sounds of fucking in the sauna below the flat. The edges of my photographs curled with the heat and steam, and I dreamt that Anni and I were a singular woman. Our parent is a doctor and we were standing with our family on the river trying to yank a hook from the jaws of a glimmering trout before letting it go.
ᶈenetralia is the story of a woman whose memory of an early sexual encounter with a jacuzzi is triggered when she moves into a flat that is above an all-male sauna, a popular underground hookup spot in her neighbourhood. Heat, sounds and condensation from the sauna seep into the flat, causing her to birth a swarm of fishing lures.
Ellie Hunter and Anni Puolakka were born in the ‘80s and met in Charlois, Rotterdam in summer 2017. While the circumstances of their encounter have faded, they continued a correspondence over the seas. ᶈenetralia is the first iteration of the ideas that have spawned from this exchange.
Special thanks to Miša Skalskis for sound design and contributions to the cinematography, and to Pleun Gremmen for acting.
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