Are you awake? Are you still dreaming? Lining the corridors to the entrance of Mimosa House, a sprawling silk painting that blends colours, geometries and geographies together asks the viewer questions about their experiences of contemporary angst and the relationship between personal fulfilment, achievement and failure while living in a city. Emma Talbot’s (b. 1969, UK) 21st Century Sleepwalk (2018) shows figures climbing and falling, asking such questions as: Does self-medication make life more interesting or blank it out? How is the counselling going? The work, which lends its title to Mimosa House’s incumbent exhibition, eases the viewer gently into an intergenerational show that considers the ways artists question imposed hierarchies within professional and personal spheres.
Curated by Cicely Farrar, Jessica Vaughan and Mimosa House’s founder Daria Khan, the trio – who met at the Royal College of Art – used a page from Lee Lozano’s (1930-1999, USA) notebook as their starting point. This handwritten note is reproduced in London, with Lozano’s scribbles explaining her 1971 decision to boycott women. The act was extremely controversial, especially in the midst of the feminist movement of the 1970s, yet Lozano felt that this gesture to withdraw from anything feminine or gendered was necessary, with the performance – that was intended only to last three months – enduring for the rest of the artist’s life.
Polvo de Gallina Negra (Black Hen Power), Mexico’s first self-consciously proclaimed feminist art collective, also came together in reaction to the way women are gendered and discriminated against. Formed in 1983 by Maris Bustamante (b. 1949, Mexico), and Monica Mayer (b. 1954, Mexico), their work combined radical social criticism with humour to subvert the machismo prevalent in 1980s Mexico. In London, two videos show the women intervening on daytime television programmes hosted by men, turning the focus onto motherhood and positioning it as an intellectual form of labor. Within the films, the viewer watches as a “macho” male TV presenter, who is initially very dismissive and condescending to the women, is gradually manipulated into becoming their object of satire and irony. The exercise results in the presenter being dressed in a pregnancy belly, and being made to enact the role of a mother for the day.
Nestled in between Lozano’s proclamation to ignore her own sex, and Polvo de Gallina’s interventions on public television, two mannequins dressed in period costume insert an air of history into an exhibition that already crosses cultures and generations. Yet, Georgia Horgan’s (b.1991, Scotland) seemingly “historical” outfits were actually made in the last year. Costumes for The Whore’s Rhetorick (2018-2019) were created in reaction to a novella of the same name published in 1642 by Ferrante Pallavicino, which was subsequently translated into English. The narrative is about a brothel owner (Mrs Creswell) and the young woman (Dorothea) she teaches how to become a sex worker. The book is essentially about societal anxieties around female emancipation and financial independence, cruelly satirizing the first women they perceived to have had social and political agency, and how they came to acquire it. In addition to the costumes, which Horgan made for a speculative film based on Pallavicino’s novella, Mimosa House also presents the script that she has written, which considers how “pornography” can be repurposed to write women’s history. The script is also available to read online www.thewhoresrhetorick.com).
Upstairs, race comes into play in Howardena Pindell’s (b.1943, USA) Free, White and 21 (1980). Having grown up in Philadelphia in the 1940s and 1950s, Pindell’s film narrates her experiences of racism that she has suffered from a very early age. Within the film, another character – performed by Pindell herself – is disguised as a white women, explaining that she understands what Pindell is saying, but she can’t relate to it due to her position of privilege.
Opposite Pindell’s film, another screen displays Georgia Sagri’s (b. 1979, Greece) experiences negotiating contracts during her participation at Manifesta 11 (11 June – 18 September 2016, Zurich, Switzerland). Georgia Sagri as Georgia Sagri (still without being paid as an actress) (2016), comments on the concept of money and how artists are paid (or unpaid as is often the case). During the biennial, the artists invited to make new commissions were coupled with real professionals to collaborate together – (another point of contention as it suggests artists don’t have real jobs) – and were also invited to be a part of a documentary about this partnership. Sagri’s response to this was to ask for an additional fee, and she proposed new contracts (which were never signed) to Manifesta, explaining that she is now additionally playing the role of an actress, and should therefore be paid for it. The film – which was originally censored by Manifesta during its first month of exhibition – shows the real negotiations between Sagri and Manifesta. Within the clip, the members of the other party to the contract are blurred out and their speech is replaced by subtitles, yet the viewer can still see how Sagri is patronized and tapped on the shoulder by a group of men. The work – and the proposed contracts that are displayed alongside the video – speaks about ownership, authorship and credit, explaining why Sagri is not an actress, and what it means to be an artist.
Drawing the exhibition to a close, is a mind map titled Under/Valued Energetic Economy (2017 – ongoing) by Raju Rage (b. 1978, Kenya). The work-in-progress is a collaborative work, thinking about inclusions and exclusions within global art systems. The mind map is part of a larger installation that includes publications from other artists and activists, producing an archive that examines the relationship between art, activism and academia.
Combining historical with contemporary works of art, Do You Keep Thinking There Must be Another Way manages to bring together multiple issues within the contemporary art world – gender, race, technology and authorship – under one roof. As the title reiterates, the exhibition asks if there is another way to tackle these points of contention.
Do You Keep Thinking There Must be Another Way is on display at Mimosa House, 12 Princes Street, London, W1B 2LL until 27 April 2019