Atong Atem, Poulomi Basu, Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Juno Calypso, Daisy Collingridge, Rose English, Rosie Gibbens, Sam Keelan, Gabby Laurent, Mitchell Moreno, Haley Morris-Cafiero, Trish Morrissey
Opens Wednesday 29 March 18.00 - 20.00
30 March - 29 April 2023
TJ Boulting is delighted to present a group show of performance and photography, where the artist is present in both. The title comes from the 1963 series by Carolee Schneemann Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera where the artist looked at the idea of being both the image and image-maker, seeing and being seen, eye and body. Eye Body looks at how artists variously use their own performance and self image, while exploring identity, feminism, gender, queerness, body image, activism, humour and personal history.
Schneemann’s use of her own body was an important subversion of how the female body was perceived as objectified by men, and as such put her firmly within feminist art history. Similarly Rose English, today one of the most renowned and influential artists working with performance, is grounded in the feminist scene of the 1970s. Her two works in the exhibition from 1974 display the fetishisation around the female body, in one the artist sits naked in the saddle wearing a horse’s tail, in the other followed by a line of small white porcelain horses. It subverts a very British type of conformity whilst being playfully humorous. These works were the forerunners to her seminal performance Quadrille in 1975 where six female dancers infiltrated Southampton Horse Show and performed a routine dressed in hoofed shoes and tails, much to the bemusement of the non-art audience.
Rosie Gibbens similarly uses her own body with humour and absurdity in her performances, providing a running commentary on the drive of female consumerism to better ourselves and our bodies with products and gadgets. She creates soft sculptures using photographs of her body parts, bringing them together as something surreal and slightly uncomfortable - a Frankensteinian vision of distorted blown up lips, eyeballs, bums, all topped off with a ubiquitous nude court shoe. In a new series she uses a photocopier in her performances, with its connotations of the bored office worker, to photocopy her body parts in an amplified and extreme manner, the results speaking of the grand aspiration of technology and our enslavery to it. “I want to make artwork that magnifies elements of contemporary life that seem absurd to me and I often approach my work as an alien visitor attempting to participate seamlessly with it, but not quite managing. I am particularly interested in gender performativity, sexual politics, consumer desire and the slippery overlaps between these.”
Haley Morris-Cafiero uses her body as a site of performance and activism to explore society’s expectations about female appearance, through her own personal experiences. Using comedic prosthetics and poses as a tool to draw the viewer in, these two works from her recent series Weight Bearing began in response to increases in eating disorders during the pandemic, and draw on her own experiences of living with an undiagnosed eating disorder many years ago. In one image she is about to enter a swimming pool, saddled with flesh-coloured bags around her neck, whilst in the other, an inflatable fat suit sees her becoming stuck as she comes out of a shower cubicle. Both are exaggerated and imagined scenes of carrying this perceived excess weight in public places, where body dysmorphia and paranoia of being judged for your appearance is heightened.
To counteract the negative effects on his mental health during the pandemic, Mitchell Moreno staged a series of performances and sets within a small corner of his apartment. Two works from his Pandemaniac series here reference the omnipresent canned food and rubber gloves of the time, the first part of a frenzied expression, the red-splattered walls evoking violence and frustration, the second, a fetishistic but claustrophobic costume.
Indian artist and activist Poulomi Basu is known for her work advocating for the rights of marginalised women, and in her deeply emotive series Fireflies she turns the lens on herself to highlight the relationship between her and her mother and their experiences of trauma and patriarchal violence. In one image she lies on the bed looking out at us from underneath her mother, their trauma as entwined as their physical bodies. In the other she is curled, head bowed, on a deserted beach at sunset, a lone figure in a charged psychological landscape. Inspired by magical realism and eco-feminism, she says: “Fireflies is about having agency over issues of shame and seeing our bodies as a space of political warfare and self-love. From the claustrophobia of the home, through to dreams of escape and transcendence, this is a kinetic and spiritual work lingering on the fragility of time and our earthly insignificance, in contrast to the celestial wonder of the natural world.”
For Gabby Laurent, the action of her performances is quite literally ‘falling’, and aimed at showing a number of attempts at wilfully letting go; a choreographed limp body giving way to gravity. When she became pregnant in 2019 she wanted to make work as a reaction to the usual static depictions of pregnancy. In contrast she felt strong and empowered, and in Falling Pregnant she defiantly takes on the role of an athlete coming out of the starting blocks. The resulting black and white images are evocative of a Muybridge study, but one defying the usual conventions.
The formal aspects of the female body through action is also explored by Juliana Cerqueira Leite as part of her ongoing explorations of the action of her body in space and material. In Concentric she photographs herself in various positions, then cuts and collages the prints to create various states of curling and contraction, referring to the work of revolutionary choreographer Martha Graham. They also refer more directly to the performative action in #11 of Schneemann’s Eye Body series, echoing the multiplying of images of her face and body, by collaging and cutting up of the black and white prints.
Sometimes the performance will enlist the creation of a character that totally obfuscates the presentation of the self. Juno Calypso prefers to work totally alone, using herself as the subject so she can fully immerse herself in her seductive pink aesthetic and undertone of horror. Her identity almost always concealed by masks or wigs, she began irreverently calling her character ‘Joyce’, but in fact her persona, whoever she is, taps into the female, the feminine, the loner, the bored, the playful and the sinister in all of us.
Daisy Collingridge creates life-size wearable soft sculptures that she inhabits, called ‘Squishies’, for her performances. With names such as Burt, Hillary, Clive and Dave, the core of the work is an exploration of fabric and flesh, form and colour, and creating worlds for them to inhabit to be captured by film or photograph. Often preferring to create a controlled scenography over a live performance in the real world, her characters roam her domestic interiors synchronised with the palette of her sculptures. Each character has their own identity which she embodies once inside it, for this exhibition we see ‘Burt Lunging’, she says: “I always have the most fun wearing Burt. There is this freedom about him, a refusal to hide and a liberated presence.”
The depiction or assimilation of real-life situations can often be a source of the strange and unsettling. Reflecting on the banal and bizarre, Sam Keelan recreates two photographs that depict adults who obsessively collect toys. In one we see a court room with two naked men sitting in front of a pile of soft toys, inspired by a divorcing couple in the US forced to rifle through their collection by the judge to decide ownership. In the second, a grown man has photographed himself in the bath with his Cabbage Patch Kid collection, clothed and with a cowboy hat. These eerie reproductions of real-life obsessions tap into the longing to maintain perpetual childhood, and also for Keelan as a gay man, the suspiciousness and fear traditionally peddled around gay men and children.
Trish Morrisey’s 2005 series Front saw the artist approach families on a beach and ask if she could swap places with a female member of the group – often the mother - whilst they took her role and photographed the group. The title of the series Front refers to the literal beach front and the boundary of the sand and sea, and the forwardness of approaching a family unit and asking to infiltrate them. The results of what happens when physical and psychological boundaries are crossed are cumulatively sinister and unsettling. The idea especially of how a female, a trusted figure, somehow being the cuckoo in the nest, reveals itself as particularly dark and disturbing.
Family representation is of personal significance to Sudanese-Australian artist Atong Atem who dresses as members of her family from old photo albums in her series Surat. She is restaging and reimagining scenes and players across decades and continents. It is a performance of personal history, and also of taking the photos themselves - thinking about the visual language of vernacular photographs (Surate means ‘snapshots’ in Sudanese Arabic) in terms of their composition, clothing and poses. She says: "We sing songs to tell history and we dress up and sit for photographs to mythologise our histories. It’s about South Sudan, so-called Australia and everywhere else in between that I’ve rested my head to dream about my people – or rather, the depictions of people I don’t know but am connected to through photographs."
Above: Trish Morrissey, Chloe Gwynne, May 30th, 2005, from the series FRONT
Below: Poulomi Basu, From the series Fireflies, 2019 - present