Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Hanging the show I am a Fantasy last week I somehow found myself in the unfamiliar position of applying tape measure to wall. When I asked the hanging fellow to pass me the yellow thing it was quickly deduced that I was out of my comfort zone and I was kindly rescued and dispatched to do something pressing on the typewriter. A few light-hearted words ensued on the subject of the technician's accoutrement and feminism circa 2011:
Rescuer: The yellow thing? Would that be the spirit level?
Me: (grappling with tape measure) Err, yes.
Rescuer: That's forty years of feminism down the drain then. You'll be asking for the twirly thing next.
Me: What's the twirly thing?
Rescuer: (deadpan) The drill.
Me: We're post-feminists now darling, we don't need to know about drills, we just need to look gorgeous and kick some arse!
There is no simple answer to the question of whether or not I am a Fantasy is a post-feminist show, although if a simple answer had to be given, for me, it would be a yes - despite the fact that Margaret Harrison is not, as such, a post-feminist artist. Rather, she is an artist whose illustrious career began in the late 1960s with work coming out of the tradition of James Gillray and George Cruikshank, influenced by Pop Art and heavily embroiled within the feminist politics of the day. But in 2011 she is producing work that is just as relevant now as it was in 1971 when her first solo show in London was shut down by the police on the grounds of indecency.
On the other hand, performance artists The Girls, aka Zoë Sinclair and Andrea Blood, weren't even born in 1971 when Margaret's career was hitting the buffers of its own inadvertent controversy. The Girls, I believe, would concede to being referred to as 'post-feminist' artists, but in a way, whether they would or not is beside the point, because we are living in post-feminist times and as such we, the viewer, can't but look at this work, this exhibition, through the lens of our early 21st century sensibilities.
Margaret Harrison and The Girls both engage powerful archetypes and gender clichés and whether as a society we like it or not, archetypes and gender clichés have just as much to say to us in 2011 as they did in 1971. Or indeed in 1958 when the post-feminist's heroine Marilyn Monroe breathily told the world: "I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy."
PayneShurvell and curator Beverley Knowles present:
Margaret Harrison and The Girls / I am a Fantasy
15 April to 21 May / Private view 14 April 6-9pm
The Girls are British artists Andrea Blood (b.1975) and Zoë Sinclair (b.1976), whose collaboration began in 1996 at Central Saint Martins. The Girls' practice focuses on creating private staged tableaux and recording them as self-portrait photography or video, as well as live performance. Themes explored include childhood, gender, feminism, women’s relationship with food, Englishness, obsession and eroticism. In collaboration with The Photographers' Gallery, The Girls were artists-in-residence at Selfridges' Ultralounge in 2010. The Girls have also exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery, The ICA and The National Portrait Gallery. 'Irreverent post-feminism. Think Angela Carter crossed with Cindy Sherman.' London Evening Standard
Margaret Harrison was born in 1940 in Wakefield and lives and works in Cumbria and California. She studied at the Carlisle College of Art, Royal Academy Schools, London and the Academy of Art, Perugia, Italy. She has exhibited extensively since her first solo show in London in 1971, most recently appearing in the touring feminist retrospective 'WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’ at MOCA LA and PS1 New York and solo show The Bodies Are Back at Intersection for the Arts San Francisco in 2010. Her work is part of the permanent collections of Tate, Arts Council of Britain, University of California, Carlisle City Art Gallery and The V&A.
Press for I am a Fantasy: