The latest exhibition at Bradford’s ambitious Fuse Art Space presents the work of eleven female artists interrogating themes of self-image and female representation. Launching just last year, Fuse has already mounted an impressive programme of exhibitions and music events, celebrating underground and experimental culture. ‘Exquisite Corpse’ brings together a provocative yet thoughtful group of contemporary feminist artworks, which boldly confront us with the complexities of image making and existing in this current age.
The ability to insert ourselves into visual culture, take control of the camera (or Smartphone) and create new forms of self representation has grown rapidly. The rise of the ‘selfie’ on social media has given many a platform to celebrate themselves (and their imperfections), play with identity, and subvert stereotypes. While the ‘selfie’ has been hailed by some as a liberating feminist act, a way to “seize the gaze”, what we are allowed to show of ourselves on social networking sites is still restricted. This was brought to light when Rupi Kaur posted a photograph to Instagram of a woman wearing clothing with a menstrual stain. Kaur’s attempt to ‘demystify the period’ garnered international media attention when Instagram removed Kaur’s image. In ‘Exquisite Corpse’ Rupi Kaur presents this photograph alongside five others from the same ‘period’ series (2015). These documentary style images show banal moments in the daily routine of someone who is menstruating. Presented alongside Kaur’s impassioned response to Instagram, this work highlights the importance of challenging what is deemed ‘normal’ by mainstream media and visual culture. Kaur achieved a small victory on social media, as Instagram later restored her image.
Two works in the exhibition address the unpleasant side of image making in the digital age. With the rise of digital imaging some troubling phenomena have developed. Lacie Garnes’ ‘Outskirt’ (2004-5) is a retort to the non-consensual, voyeuristic practice of ‘up-skirting’, the secret filming and photographing of the view up a woman’s skirt. Garnes has responded with her own radical act of voyeurism, producing video footage by covertly filming from underneath her skirt. Aligning the camera with her body, Garnes complicates the process of looking and being looked at.
Sarah Faraday’s ‘Creepshot Disaster’ (2015) is perhaps one of the most unsettling works in the exhibition. Faraday confronts us with a collection of ‘creepshots’ found online. Much like ‘up-skirting’, these images display horrible privacy violations. In the ‘creepshot’, sexualised photographs of women are taken without their consent for the purposes of sexual pleasure, of both the perpetrator and others on the Internet. Removed from context, and deprived of identity, the women are anonymous. Faraday highlights the dark possibilities of an age of ubiquitous Smartphones and the ability to instantly share images with millions.
Different but impassioned responses to the realities of relationships and human existence can be seen in the works of Anastasia Vepreva and Sue Williams. Vepreva’s ‘Requiem for Romantic Love’ (2013) is a three-channel projection that skilfully collages found footage from old soviet films, depicting scenes of couples going through the stages of courtship. Dismissing ‘romance’ as an outdated construct born from the culture of patriarchy, Vepreva deftly edits these depictions of love into a horror film, where romance becomes the unseen villain of the piece. Imbuing the imagery with a sense of unease, Vepreva adds an unsettling score of low abstract rumbles and reverberations, visceral sounds suggesting impending disaster. With the absence of dialogue the narrative is constructed from looks and gestures. We see pensive, anguished faces, and pained looks of longing. Moments of tenderness lead to frantic and forced embraces, and stiff bodies push men away. The result is a bleak yet compelling watch.
Sue Williams’ ‘Lips Barely Moving’ (2003-present) takes the form of a vast drawing installation. Covering an entire gallery wall, Williams gives us a vista of unruly bodies. Awkward sexual encounters, scenes of humiliation and lonely naked figures make up a stark portrait of human existence. In these intensely personal, diaristic drawings Williams shows us moments of self-doubt and fragility. Seemingly drawn in quick, passionate outbursts, these crude bodies collectively form an arresting collage of cruel realities.