Moyra Davey’s latest film Les Goddesses (2011) focuses on the life story of Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughters and her lovers. Wollstonecraft was an Eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights and her daughters were Fanny Imlay, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and their stepsister Claire Claremont, nicknamed ‘Les Goddesses’. The daughters were all at some point romantically linked to Percy Bysshe Shelley leading to the tragic suicide of Fanny at 22, and in 1795 Mary Wollestonecroft also attempted suicide with laudanum following her failed romance to Fanny’s father Gilbert Imlay.
Sitting on the floor and pacing around a sunlit bedroom with a voice recorder and video, Davey adopts the tone of a researcher, recounting the biographies of the female lead Mary & her daughters with a forensic attention to detail. Gradually, however, narrative associations are introduced between the lives of the characters and the artists own family, as Davey divulges into anecdotes of her own youth and figures from her past. Whilst narrating Wollenstonecroft’s story with a cool objectivity, the artist punctuates the film with Black and white photographs of herself and her sisters as young women dressed in punk rock clothes, leading us to suspect that it is Davey who may be the true subject here.
In her own writing Davey has cited the ‘muse’ as an important idea and catalyst in her work and previous films, be it a person, a book, a place, or in Davey’s words “a floating abstraction that reveals itself unpredictably”. In this film the muse manifests in itself in all these forms, as Davey weaves together the characters who inhabit her external and inner worlds, both real and imagined, and her literary inspirations - at one point blowing the dust from books on her shelf by Anne Sexton, Mary Kelly and Sylvia Plath. Slowly through the piecing together images and language, and through the act of reading itself, a psychological portrait of the artist emerges.
Moyra Davey is a photographer, writer and filmmaker, born in Toronto in 1958 and currently lives and works in New York