Hard out Here: Sarah Lucas and Kehinde Wiley

This was originally a post about Lily Allen’s tone-deaf video: Hard Out Here. But, well, who needs yet another mouthy white woman’s opinion on the subject, really.*

So I’m going to do what I do better – write about art.

Specifically about two recent exhibitions speak with a little more nuance about some of the issues that Ms Allen was trying to portray in that racist piece of shit video. Oops? did I really say that.

Anyway, back to it: Sarah Lucas and Kehinde Wiley.

Sarah Lucas at the Whitechapel.

…and it’s all about bitches. It’s all about the images, the violence, the tawdriness of the same-ol-same-ol images of women’s bodies, men’s bodies – the same blah blah bullshit we’re all just a little bit sick of seeing.
Maybe you’re not sick of seeing, but I am. Friends of mine are. In fact, my first visit to the show was with a friend who is battling depression because of the hatred she has about her body because it doesn’t ‘fit’ with what ‘should’.

Anyway, it’s all there in the gallery. Just there. In all kinds of detail. with varying levels of humour, finesse, mess and message.

It is refreshingly unsimplifed – in fact, it’s all over the place.
It is probably ‘sanitised’ for the general Whitechapel Gallery-viewing public, but even with that in mind, it’s not a perpetuation of the ‘good girl’ imagery. But neither is it so erratic that there isn’t plenty of room to read her messages about images of women.

About the control of our own image, and who has it.

Although this isn’t a post about the video, I do think this image says some of what Ms Allen WAS trying to get at with her BAGGY PUSSY imagery, but with a whole lot finer detail. It is hard being that bitch.

Having said that, Sarah Lucas is a white, middle class woman who presents a fairly singular image of Woman.
But for that, it’s relentless. And consistent. She portrays the violence of gender symbolism, makes fun of the entendre – the guardsman of language – and rides it like she’s going to come any second.

She is unabashed.

The variety of materials is also refreshing: sculptures, readymades, drawings, wallpapers, prints, mechanical wanking cocks (a material type all of its own), photography and text. And on that front, it is not singular.

It was a relief to see the savageness of her response to the same old sexist bullshit about the female form.

Personally (and currently up to my back teeth with it all), it is an exhibition which says ‘It’s ok honey, i feel the same way’.

The work takes up so much space, too. It gets into every bit and there’s not enough space to spread out and because of that, do make plans to see the show twice.

Before anyone whinges about it, I don’t think the antidote is to give more space. I think the slightly-claustrophobic feeling of the show perfectly demonstrates a) the intensity of being an artist: you have a thousand things on the go at the one time and there’s no space from it. You can’t walk back from your life. b) same thing about being a woman. Your imagery and the intensity is relentless, there isn’t a break from it. You don’t get to take a 10 minute breather, walk back and see how it feels to not have all of the ‘requirements’ and ‘opinions’ and ‘representation’ in your face. So why should you in an art gallery?

Kehinde Wiley at Stephen Friedman Gallery

The first time I saw Kehinde Wiley’s work was in his Black Light book at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (note the caption: I still REALLY want this book.)

The show at Stephen Friedman gallery last month was his work from Jamaica. Floral, Patterned and Beautiful. Part of his ongoing series from around the world – especially places that have significance for (young male) figures unseen in the former colonies: Israel, Africa, Brazil.

This is one of my favourite: all pattern everything.

I love the OTT of it all. Yes, posed staring out in a fairly straight-up pose, but bursting with life and colour and yowsers!

Unlike previous works of his and other shows I’d heard about/seen, this show included the ladies. In fact, the gallery at #11 was all Ladies. Three large works of larger-than-life ladies, showing off their thang. I don’t remember ever seeing a woman portrayed by Wiley like that – he has been notoriously focused on the young men until now.

Despite the regal/papal titles given to these paintings of women, the underlying message that comes with them is that ‘this is not their life’. They are not ‘portrait sitters’, like the subjects Wiley refers to in his video about the history of portraiture.

They are the ‘bitches’ in Allen’s song. (The ones who she will never be and has never been.) These are the women for who it is fuckin’ hard. Oops – I went there again.

To repeat myself, the images are seriously beautiful. They had me, as a 30-something educated white woman staring at the ornate, decorated images of young black men. Hmm

This was the difficult part about the show for me, and the subject of a long chat with the gallery staff.
(I’m very glad they were willing to have the discussion. They didn’t, to their credit, ignore the obvious racial and ethical place of art/paintings/objects/viewers in what they’re selling, and hide behind the ‘it’s just paintins, miss‘.)

So, we have this age-old dynamic.
Me: western, privileged white appreciator of young, gorgeous black specimen. Not that’s how I personally believed I was viewing these images and people, but I cannot ignore the echoes and the dynamic that had been set up. Into which I had walked and cannot avoid because of the fact that I am most of those things. Depressing.

The gorgeous patterns, the refreshingly different images of men and women surrounded by colours and framing reserved for the white elite – they’re amazing and I love them. but if *I* take one home and stick it on my wall, am I not the same as the old anthopological doyenne with her specimens of ‘the noble savage?’.

Argh! the mobius strip questioning of ‘for whom is this art made?’ ‘who has the power?’ drove me wild, in a way that I value: Is Kehinde selling out young black street stylers – his own peeps, for the fodder of white folks, again? Or is he taking back that role of representing the young black gorgeous man into the hands of young black gorgeous man and the privilege white folks just get to watch, whilst they get to be immortalised. Or something of both. Or neither.

I left the show with all those complex feelings of wanting to take a shower, to dance in joy, all desire and need to turn off all the images in my day to ignore how annoyingly complex and shit human power and relationships are.

And to that end, the power within those paintings – especially for the black collector, or one with her eyes open, is worth the 5-figure price tag that will rarely go out of fashion.

*here are a few excellent responses to that video:

– Deanna Rodger, poet wrote and performed a piece about it:
– Chimene Suleyman, also a poet wrote an excellent essay:
– Bridget Minamore made an excellent storify of women on twitter: https://storify.com/bridgetminamore/lily-allen-and-satire

image credits:
Sarah Lucas, Chicken Knickers, 1997
Sarah Lucas, Bitch (detail) 1995

Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of James Hamilton, Earl of Arran’, 2013

a match made in heaven

leigh bowery and mike parr. at the kunsthalle wien.

could it get any more tailored to my tastes? only by adding patti smith and kanye west exhibitons in there…

leigh and mike are ongoing influences here at she sees red.

i’m bummed i didn’t know about mike’s artist talk and i am pretty sure i can’t make next week’s talk on extreme art and the body politic, but i’ll be getting to vienna at some stage to see these shows.

you heard it here first.

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some feedback I received about the work at performance space was that, rather than being separated from the audience by playing a character, i was inaccessible by “being elsewhere”.

even though i was very much present in the space, the act of being blindfolded and with headphones on   not only isolated me – pushing me into my own world of intense audio overload and survival, but also  isolated me to visitors and the audience. my presence was called into question.

this presence/liveness is a topic of interest for the artist laura hindmarsh and she has been focusing her mentorship with lucas ihlein on it – what is the role of presence in performance and/or live art? how does site connect with it? how can process be performed and exhibited? what is documentation? what is ‘live’? etc, etc.*

she has included me in an exhibition about presence, absence, performance and process that will be opening this week at sawtooth gallery in launceston: appearing-as process

if you’re in the ‘hood, do go. i’ve sent through an instructional piece and i’d love to hear about people’s experience of it.

*laura, boni cairncross and i also have an ongoing collaborative research lab about it, that is currently split across a stack of media, but will be collated and presented at some point.

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preparing for torture

in a few hours’ time, i will start a new work that uses CIA interrogation techniques to experience what it’s like to ‘listen’ under duress and as a way to interrogate my own listening practice.

the work is influenced by a work of mike parr’s i saw years ago and i’m grateful to have recently been able to pore over the documentation from that performance, including his letters to the gallery director nick tsoutas (from artspace).

the letter gave me an indication of the process behind his performance and the level of preparation. i feel like i haven’t prepared nearly enough – i don’t quite know how to prepare for this, as it’s the first time i’ve pushed myself to this level before. i’ve done 8-hour performances before, but not to this level of imprisonment (i’m in a booth, shackled, naked and strapped.

i’ve tried to follow a little of what i read about mike parr’s process and hopefully i’ll be able to have an outcome half as beautiful and powerful as his.

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regimes of hardship

[ok, way overdue post about this….]

on a thursday evening earlier this month, i dragged my friend and fellow sound/listening/thinker/arty-type, huw, to ]performance space[ to see the third installment in a residency by martin o’brien, called regimes of hardship.

open as part of east london’s first thursdays, this final performance was a 12-hour durational work in collaboration with sheree rose.

there was a signed and fingerprinted (in blood) agreement between martin and sheree, stating that for the 12 hours, martin would hand his body over to her, for her to do anything she wants with it.

we arrived and martin had a badly-shaven head (presumably before we got there), and was being painted green with bruce nauman connotations. he was a lowly worm.

we left to eat, but returned and sheree had a costume change herself, with a little more satin and tuille – more french maid than doctor frankenstein.

she attached a leather ball stretcher, chains, fishing weights and jewels (it almost reminded me of a strange guy benfield piece). she stretched him from post to post – in crucifix formation, having wiped the green off his body somehow. there were references to ketchup, so i’m not sure what happened whilst we were out.

then sheree got a scalpel out and cut her initial into martin’s chest that sort of looked a bit like an ‘S’, a bit like the lightning bolt between AC and DC and a bit like half of the SS (Schutzstaffel) logo.

after being released she made martin kiss her feet and he was to become a table for the audience to eat trifle off of. i didn’t feel like doing that (which actually might have more to do with trifle than the act of degredation).

noticed sheree’s tenderness as part of the pain infliction process. the care that heightens the torture. giving and taking. and when i spoke to her after the symposium (see below), she said that tenderness and care is a crucial element to the performance of pain.

there seemed to be a level of reservation, which may have been the gallery context, exhaustion, it may  a subconscious reticence to be intimate or a reluctance to truly take the power given to her. or just my perception. apparently the work a few days later was far more unrestrained and the tension between master and slave had returned.

martin’s residency culminated in a symposium on the following saturday.

this was a clincher and put the work in context for me. i have an interest in performance art, but i clearly am not a student in it, because i learned a lot that day.

featuring amazing names like: ron athey, sarah wilson, dani ploeger, lois keidan, franko b, sheree rose, rita marcalo and michael mayhew, i was suckered in straight away.

sadly i missed an intense peformance with sheree rose and martin o’brien again – apparently it was amazing.

i walked in on a bit of a marina abramovic haters club – a slight diversion based on a side remark that got blown out of proportion, but was redeemed during the lunch break – a chance to meet some other performers and researchers from across the UK.

the symposium was really well run and, for a bunch of people interested in putting their body through quite anti-social levels of distress, everyone was mostly well-behaved. there was a bit of heated debate, usually instigated by Franko B, but it made for an interesting and dynamic afternoon discussing a variety of topics, such as the audience complicity, bloody, rights to ones body, corporeal knowledge, sex, illness and the relationship between artist and medical research.

and i got called a colonialist, which was an interesting turn of events. huzzah!
thankfully, it has become impetus for a new, difficult work, so it’s all ok. for now.

the interesting final session was actually the highlight of the day: three ‘conversations’ between artists and their medics and discussion on ethics, complicity and responsility of artists and the medical field:

martin o’brien and karen lowton spoke about their ongoing research collaboration related to cystic fibrosis and its treatment. obviously the medical research into the disease influences martin’s physical wellbeing, but his intense performance and masochistic works give the medical profession other ways to perceive the way a patient can ‘take control’ of chronic illness and the influence duration, pain and identity have on it.

michael mayhew and tuheen huda discussed how they came to work together and the importance of their working relationship over the years. michael spends a lot of time taking blood from his body, tuheen is a medic but with an interest (and qualifications) in art. during their discussion, tuheen took 6 vials of blood from michael that michael gave to people connected with the symposium, whilst they talked about the intimacy of doing that, but also how normal it is for both of them to both do what they do (tuheen take blood and michael to give it), but how shocking it still is for many of them.  i got a lot out of hearing michael’s story of his desire to pay tribute to charles drew for black history month and the  difficulty in doing so.

rita mercala and georgia testa spoke about their collaborative research into the ethics of working with illness in art. initially introduced during rita’s work in which she attempted to initiate her epilepsy in an installation/ performance context, the main project that they have been discussing is rita’s desire to create a pill that would do the same.

this one generated a lot of fantastic discussion afterwards about the right to harm oneself (operation spanner was a case i learned about), whose responsibility is it if we ask people to help us make work that will harm us and what are the other implications about the right to ones own pain.


as usual, the discussions afterwards were also great and i’m considering now doing the performance space summer residency and another live art development agency DIY workshop.

even though it took me forever to write about, this little symposium that i accidentally stumbled upon, it has given me a stack of food for thought for upcoming works and i’m looking forward to being able to focus on them.

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marina abramovic made my cry made me cry

Day 49, Portrait 6

a while ago i discovered this beautiful tumblr blog about the marina abramovic show at MoMA. every couple of days, i see these beautiful tear-stained faces staring intently at an absent figure, the amazing performance artist.

for me, her absence becomes immediately present, and i also cry. it’s like an echo of what is really happening, which is also an echo of what is really happening.


and most-excellent used of blogs/flickr for performance/contemporary art.

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