The short story: this is the PowerPoint I made for my exhibition The Mermaid Chronicles. It tells the story of how Splash influenced a generation of freelance mermaids in very short quotes and images. Dive in!
The long story goes like this…I went to art school in the late 90s. I thought I was going to be the next Sherrie Levine or Barbara Kruger or some high-brow feminist artist. Also, I wasn’t good enough to get into the painting department. So I went into Intermedia, even though I didn’t know how to make videos or soundworks. In my second year, I started to make appropriated art videos. I could ‘borrow’ scenes from mainstream movies I had loved in childhood and reedit them into short video artworks, with new soundtracks. My new videos were a bit like MTV music videos – I have always loved the part in a film when the main character changes in some way and it is all set to the duration of a song. My appropriated videos also held the original film’s plot and casting choices under a critical lens. That’s what I told myself, anyway. I was a young woman who longed to be beautiful and noticed for something other than her brain.
So I rented Splash from VideoEzy (it was the 90s, remember) and edited the bath scene into a new art video. I used a Louise Hay self-help affirmation tape my Mum gave me as the soundtrack. As Hay intoned her insipid affirmations – “I love the miracle that is my body” – Daryl Hannah turned into the mermaid Madison, her orange fluke unfurling over the end of the tub. At art school, I showed my Feminist tutor my new take of Splash and she was aghast. Her feedback, “This can’t be about Daryl Hannah.”
I told you this is a long story. My tutor had a harrowed face and witchy hair and wore only Khaki. I felt she disapproved of Daryl Hannah because she was blonde and beautiful. That was why I disapproved of Daryl Hannah—at that time, I was bitter I had not turned into her. Yet, I was also trying to show my tutor something important: my childhood dream. I too wanted to be a mermaid. I don’t remember watching Splash as a little girl, however I do remember coming home and taking a bath and wishing my feet would turn into an epic beautiful orange mermaid tail. Didn’t happen.
Instead I grew up, fell through bum jobs and landed in my late thirties in a blue office chair. I was a project manager trying to write a book about mermaids. Still. One day I googled: what do mermaids do? And I landed on a new career. I found a photograph of a blonde woman wearing a massive orange tail reclining in her bathtub. This can be about Daryl Hannah, I thought. So if someone sees my tutor tell her I now have the PowerPoint to prove it.