Sequestered in an area deeply congested with the narrative of redevelopment is ‘A brief history of girliness’, a solo show of work by the artist Jennifer Bailey. ‘Space in Between’ is dominated by steel scaffold poles that obscure the gallery, creating claustrophobic quarters. Bailey’s (de)construction requests us to duck and dive to navigate the show. Each wall has a visual clue or reminder pushing our investigation further along – the tiniest of photographic prints document what looks to be a construction site witnessed through the stand-offish glance of a voyeur alongside bodily x-rays.
Standing too far back results in one of Bailey’s steel poles colliding into vision, beheading the images into obscurity or rendering them completely passive. Traversing the lonely cubicle, the compromising height and placement of the poles leaves us without images readily or easily viewable. Emotional requirements to interact with and view the wall-mounted works must be left behind. Instead, the viewer is calmly encouraged to abandon pre-fixed notions on how to physically engage with the art/room/space/exhibition, lest the frustrations of claustrophobia break through.
‘Seeing people build things’ compliments the exhibition as a one-off text instruction and narration. Bailey plays devil’s advocate with the representational qualities of the photographic – we view building sites and rubble, men in hard hats and more steel poles than ever imagined, we presume that one x-ray may be a sphincter and another is most definitely a pelvis. Out of focus (and out of shot), are the many things that are not included – in Bailey’s words ‘plug sockets, socks, shoes, selfesteem, purpose, seborrhoeic build-up, motherhood, hormones, jobs, money’. Bailey discloses with her work the disproportionate dynamic of visibility within our societal glare.
The structural steel prison enacted in this show systematically dis-allows the viewer the opportunity to step back and see the grander scale of her installation, her solo show, her right of passage in the gallery. The scale of the photographic imagery is equally compromised. These combined make it almost impossible to gauge the show as a complete whole, instead we are treated to mini-exhibitions or moments. The shrinking down of the imagery pertaining to men at work seems like a glib satirical moment, the steel poles suggestively honouring their structural endeavours whilst simplifying their relevance to form over function, conjuring frustration toward health and safety regulations and referencing the body.
Compartmentalised and broken, the show has a surprising emotional energy. In many ways this comes from the impossible task of having to explain yourself as a female, the endless associative issues and layers of infrastructural framework that direct and enforce a woman’s ability to have a practice without having to explain that she is a woman with a practice.