The Problem with Having a Body... at The Approach Gallery

For this group exhibition at The Approach Gallery, E2, we are informed that its focus is providing a narrative on the ways in which the female body passes through and takes up space. Considering this and the fact that the curator, Nora Heidorn, is a woman, is it safe, or purposeful, to assume that it is a feminist exhibition? This ongoing question aside, the strong and varied content is implicit in its discussions as opposed to making bold statements about femininity, the female condition and the like, which not only makes for a timely touch upon postgenderism, but ultimately results in a relatable experience for the viewer.

As the works range from 1964 to 2017, it is clear that Heidorn has selected them based on pure critical and visual potency, rather than being made around the exhibition theme. Its full title is 'The Problem with Having a Body is That it Always Needs to be Somewhere', highlighting physicalities and labour forces in the art world and beyond. German artist Alexandra Bircken is the first to plant these ideas, as her sculptural piece 'Doris' initially appears minimal, yet upon further investigation we find that its shape, which is of a woman's body on its side, is comprised of wax, clothing and varnish. The clothing, which is trapped like a fly in amber seems to point to the fashion industry's dispensible consumption of women, whether this is through forcing models to lose weight, or targeting female insecurities and demographics to make huge profits. Given the artist's professional background as a designer in the industry, 'Doris' is a succinct marriage of fashion and art disciplines. The idea of a memento mori is something of a motif in the exhibition, where the body is presented as a means of creative reproduction and expression.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Summertime Blues #3, 2016. Cyanotype, 186.5cm x 125cm x 4cm. TJ Boulting, London.

Creative reproduction and distinct materialities are two elements prevalent in Juliana Cerqueira Leite's aesthetically stunning cyanotype 'Summertime Blues #3' and Kiki Kogelnik's 'Untitled (Hands)'. The curatorial decision to place these works side by side appears to be random but they certainly bear similarities, as they both depict the body in the context of women's labour and work. In today's era of precarious work, this becomes even more interesting, and Kogelnik's double-handed sculptural piece reinforces the pressures of the different ideas of 'work', whether this is holding down a career, child-rearing, creative endeavours, something in between or all of the above.

Shapes and (dis)figurements are important elements to intersectional feminism, enhancing the logic of the show packing a feminist punch. Another of Leite's works, a wonderful fleshy controlled mess, 'Transitional', resembles a melting candle and a smashed birthday cake. Its presence in the middle of the space is a display of chaos in itself and, in the context of the show, is a symbol of the imperfections in the female form created through rich, varied narratives and struggles. 

As the most recent work in the show, B. Ingrid Olson's photography feels exactly that: exciting, vibrant and as if it is documenting a brief moment in a fast-paced world. Conveniently, in an exhibition that is otherwise non-linear, Olson's work wraps up the show and places us firmly in the present. One photographic collage in particular is a real moment-stealer; 'Bulb and Socket Stripped Bare' references our reliance on electricity and electronic items, yet at the same time starts the conversation about postgenderism, where technology has infiltrated our lives to the extent that how we feel, perceive and experience gender is being drastically changed. As evidence of this, the image in question is undeniably phallic, which is of course the antithesis to the traditional female aesthetic, making its position in the exhibition even more notable. Olson's setting of interiors is also very much reminiscent of art historical depictions of the female body, where she is resigned to the domestic space. Though there is no sign of lack of freedom, the exhibition as a whole hints at the past and future of female representation, and how customs have changed both within the domestic sphere and the institution of the art gallery.

B. Ingrid Olson, Bulb and Socket Stripped Bare, 2017.  Inkjet print and UV inkjet printed matboard in aluminium frame, 61cm x 40.6cm. Simone Subal, New York. 

Kiki Kogelnik, Untitled (Hands), c. 1967. Acrylic on polyurethane, 2.5cm x 17.8cm x 76.2cm. Courtesy of Kiki Kogelnik Foundation. 

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