Saturday, December 22, 2012

On show

This week was meant to be about viewing art shows I've missed, but I only made it to the South London Gallery to view two. Both are by European women artists making long-overdue UK debuts.

Downstairs is Sanja Ivekovic's Unknown Heroine (one-half of a retrospective, with the other as-yet unviewed at Calvert 22), while upstairs is Toxic Play in Two Acts, by the duo Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz. Having met all of these artists at various times in Berlin, I was intrigued.

Both exhibits have explicitly feminist concerns, though coming from separate generations. Ivekovic, a Croat, grew up under the Yugoslav regime, and this section of her retrospective offers her gender commentary over the years, from videos that satirise standards of beauty, to an ongoing series of parallel constructions of magazines juxtaposed with her personal photos, as if contrasting her reality with the supposed ideal portrayed in mass media. The space is quite bright and open, leaving the exhibits looking a bit stranded.

Upstairs the more confined space presses in on Toxic Play in Two Acts, with the film Salomania offering a queered version of Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils presented by veteran filmmaker/choreographer Yvonne Rainer and Wu Tsang, shot in Los Angeles. In the next room is the new film, Toxic, featuring drag artist Werner Hirsch (the creation of Antonia Baehr) quoting Jean Genet, while Ginger Brooks Takahashi (late of MEN) hoovers up glitter. An abundance of cultural references and various forms of queerness and gender play abound in both works, though to what end I am not quite clear.

Having interviewed Boudry and Lorenz separately, I know they share interests in sexuality, labour, and such queer filmmakers as Jack Smith, and that these inform their work. They like to create alternative histories, to recuperate lost figures (here Alla Nazimova and Genet) and to "queer" whatever space in which they work. Toxic, in particular, is self-referential, as Baehr-as Hirsch-as Genet, turns on the filmmakers, questioning why they crew is not in front of the camera in his place. An off-camera voice asks, "Does it interest you to break the order?", followed by a pan that shows the crew and other cast in the audience."Of course," responds Baehr/Hirsch/Genet. The audience outside this filmic space is invited to draw its own conclusions.

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