A Numbness in the Mouth (17mins 32sec, Irish with English subtitles, 4K Video, 2016) takes place in an Ireland of the near-future; a self-sustaining, militarized island where climate change has benefited agricultural production. A spokesperson for the government’s Ministry of Food- Gráinne- speaking in the Irish language- informs us that rations are being enforced. Due to a record crop yield of wheat there is a surplus of flour on the market. To retain economic balance between supply and demand, each citizen is requested to consume more than five pounds of flour per day. Following this governmental ruling on consumption, the film moves to Lily (a worker in the mill) sifting flour onto her own head as the mill’s machines swing around her. Later she bathes in a vat of orange jelly, while reflecting on how food affects her temperament.
Shackleton’s Mill in Strawberry Beds, Dublin, provides the context for the film’s two protagonists to explore the role of women in the mill, alongside our relationship to food and its production in a series of staged scenes, monologues and analogies. The River Liffey flows below the mill (previously powering it), with the mill producing flour for nearly 200 years until it ceased operation in 1998. Milling is thought to have operated here since the 12th century. Workers in the mill were mostly men, with women working in the laboratory where the freshly produced flour would be tested and baked.
Shackleton’s Mill was the first place to lock out its workers in 1913. During 1916 it broke the Belfast boycott to acquire their order of white flour sacks. As a result, the mill was held up by the Irish Citizen Army- armed with bombs and guns- and the flour sacks were set on fire in the front yard of the mill. The mill was recommissioned for filming, with grain running through the chutes and rollers. The soundtrack of the film has been built from sounds recorded solely in the mill, and interpolated into the film is a 35mm technicolor infomercial for bread, created in the 1950s, which was found in the mill upon its closure.
The roles in the film are inhabited by Sinéad Ní Uallacháin (a broadcaster with RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta) and Jenny Swingler (a performer, writer and theatre director based in London).