Miss Pokeno and The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance: Review - 'militant feminist art'
HQ, London: While female artists a few years ago cynically used feminist imagery but rejected the label, this exhibition is committed
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Thursday 05 December 2013
I am sitting at a long antique wooden school table, burning capital letters onto the surface: ‘B****.’ Other words swarm all over it: ‘Vagina Dentata’, ‘Fishy Vagina’, ‘Bicycle’, ‘Butch Bull Dyke’, and ‘Fat Poisonous B****.’ The word ‘b****’ appears many times, in many permutations; so too does ‘c***’ and ‘slut.’
Miss Pokeno and The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance invite women to sit at the table, remember the worst names they have ever been called because of their sex, and burn them onto the surface with the aid of a pyropen, an electric device with a hot red nib that creates a satisfyingly scorched smell as you write, and requires patience.
It really makes you think about the words as you brand them onto this symbol of education and authority. The pyropen mimics the long needles that Victorian ladies used to hold in the fire before using them to create landscape pictures. Miss Pokeno and The Sisters also provide a selection of brandy, whisky, and chocolate, should you need help with inspiration.
The table is called Too Ugly For Words (work in progress) and it is the star of this exhibition of feminist militia art. Both a homage to the history of feminism and its current, electrifying resurgence, the video, sculpture, and fashion here is screamingly indignant. While female artists a few years ago cynically used feminist imagery (Tracey Emin) but rejected the label, this exhibition is committed. The table in particular is an engaging and brilliant conceptual piece.
Miss Pokeno's 'Too Ugly for Words', which invites women to inscribe insulting names they have been called onto a table
“Miss Pokeno and The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance” is in fact a pseudonym for New Zealand-born London-based pop-star turned artist Alannah Currie, 56, formerly of 1980s New Wave band The Thompson Twins. The table was inspired by 1970s feminist consciousness-raising meetings, whereby women would sit around and smoke fags and talk about their experiences. The meetings elicited “a tidal wave of words,” as Currie puts it, and the simple fact of expressing them proved revolutionary.
The same is happening now. Women are fighting back against the misogyny that comprises so much of contemporary culture, from policy to music videos. The power of Currie’s work lies in its timeliness: rather than an echo of bygone days when women were proud to call themselves feminists, this feels like an exhibition for right now.
Marching Coat connects histories of feminist direct action. A black, silk-lined feminine coat is slung on a pole and chained to the ceiling. Its arms are outstretched, which gives the impression of a crucified martyr. There is a Pussy Riot balaclava over its head and the pockets of the coat are designed to hold Suffragist “instruments of nuisance”, updated by Currie: a glass hammer (£325), a gold brick (£500), and a wrecking bar (£350).
Some feminists will have a problem with the commodification of resistance here, the transformation of weapons into fragile, beautiful objects. However, the spirit of Currie’s work is difficult to criticize. Rather than an expression of the psychic damage women endure under patriarchy, this is pure affirmation.
Until 13 Dec
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre