1 June – 26 June 2016
Solid Gold Easy Action
The Greek myth of Medusa speaks of a winged female creature: a monstrous woman with fire in her eyes and thrashing serpents in the tendrils of her hair. It’s said that many men attempted to defeat Medusa, that they would arm themselves for battle and travel to her lair, but most would never return. The gaze of Medusa had the power to turn man to stone, and as soon as her eyes fell upon you, all would be lost. But the philosopher Hélène Cixous turns this tale around: Medusa is not the monster here, but the travelling hoards attempting to defeat a powerful woman, those terrified by the rage and flames behind the smile, by femininity unleashed. ‘You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her,’ writes Cixous, ‘and she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing.’(1)
Solid Gold Easy Action, part one of two group shows at Galerie pompom, presents the work of Rochelle Haley, Deb Mansfield, Elvis Richardson, Alice Scibberas, and Emma Thomson.
The artists in this show are all female. And although this exhibition is not explicitly about gender, placing these artists together does inevitably suggest a sideways glance to ideas of femininity, power, desire and agency. Deb Mansfield plays with objectified masculinity, reversing the male gaze in a new series of photographic works and Emma Thomson’s images offer up a Medusa-like challenge from the eyes of female hunters. Alice Sciberras’ photo sculptures are informed by the playing and imaginings of her son, the maternal offering a lens with which to consider patterns in abstraction, whilst Rochelle Haley’s paintings radiate a volcanic heat, a burning molten overflow. And Elvis Richardson’s Art Problems (2015) may speak more strongly to the preoccupations and concerns of women, given the gender disparity in the levels of financial assistance and representation afforded to female artists, demonstrated in Richardson’s ongoing project CoUNTess.
And yet at the same time, these artists and their work should not only be framed in terms of their gender – all of these works speak far more broadly than to be categorised to the side with the oft repeated phrase of ‘women’s issues.’ Indeed, Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at MOCA in Los Angeles, suggests that one of the reasons for the lack of representation of female artists has to do with the repeated positioning of work as being specifically gendered:
‘Most men think that men make universal statements and women talk about women. You think you’re a universal subject—that is white male privilege…When Mary Heilmann makes an abstraction invested in the sphere of the domestic, that’s not a woman thing; that’s everybody. Everybody goes home and stares at a towel.’(2)
As Molesworth suggests, female artists need to be seen as being more than simply female, that their work is equally, and sometimes even more, universal in its concerns.
And so this show may be all female, but running alongside this is a larger preoccupation with movement, a kind of amped energy and humourous exuberance, a sense of play, and a fascination with tactile and lustrous materials. In other words, it’s about holding both ideas at once, both considering gender and not, looking towards Medusa’s gaze but also looking away, because, as Maggie Nelson writes, ‘there is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.’(3)
1. Hélène Cixous, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ in Signs, 1.4, (1976), p. 885
2. Julia Halperin; Helen Molesworth, ‘Creating value around women artists: the chief curator’s view’, The Art Newspaper, (May 2016), <http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/creating-value-around-women-artists-the-chief-curator-s-view/>
3. Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, (Gray Wolf Press: Minnesota, 2015), p. 29