A Review of Touch Sensitive at Guest Projects, London
The female body is a delicate, reactive and complex entity, there is no one way to approach or describe it. Touch Sensitive saw curator Cairo Clarke invite six women artists to explore the representation of the feminine exterior through a week of six individual exhibitions of performance art. Focusing on the sense of touch, Clarke created a discourse on the digitisation, politicisation and sexualisation of the body.
The first night opened with a daring performance orchestrated by Hannah Perry. Inspired by a residency in Las Vegas, Perry allowed the Guest Projects space to become a stage for adult dancer Vee Slinky to move hypnotically around a pole while a young woman’s soft and gentle voiceover recalled sexual experiences. A comment on the hyper-sexualisation of female bodies, Slinky’s movements were strikingly beautiful, despite the audience’s preconceptions telling them that it should be viewed derogatorily. The woman sounded introverted and shy. Perhaps Slinky’s graceful presence was a release of repressed emotions. Staged in a completely empty space except for one single pole, the performance was incredibly powerful. While there was a sense of voyeurism by the surveillance of the audience, one got the feeling that the performance was undertaken on Slinky’s terms.
In a revision of William Hogarth’s famous The Harlot’s Progress, Harriet Middleton-Baker restructured the cautionary tale in a proposal for an opera imagined by female sci-fi writers. Middleton-Baker’s architectural background came to the fore as Guest Projects was completely transformed into multiple parts. The opera was projected onto a screen, on which dance scenes were layered on top of actors dressed in wigs and eighteenth-century costumes. Amongst research documents on the walls were Toulouse-Lautrec style posters, quotes and stage plans. Middleton-Baker also created a viewing space, complete with chairs, futuristic lighting and flowers. In the centre of her fantasy living room was a table full of playing cards bought in Coney Island on which a woman appears in a variety of suggestive and extravagant costumes. While Hogarth’s tale was a cautionary one, Middleton-Baker’s reworking sought reparation for the past in a new world where a woman’s sexuality is not to her detriment. It also emphasised that femininity is everywhere, even in places we least expect it, where one paper illustrated that even Hackney is shaped like a uterus.
Suzannah Pettigrew’s performance The Difference Between (a Mirage and Realness) combined video installation and performance to explore the female relationship between IRL and digital worlds. In a comment on how we experience reality, the piece was specially developed between artist and curator for Touch Sensitive. The performance was particularly interesting as both the performer and the soundscape engineer were male, in what had hitherto been an extremely feminine space. The performance is also the basis for a zine, which is currently in production.
On Friday night, Lotte Andersen’s Dance Therapy transformed the Guest Project space into the ultimate dance party. Andersen covered the walls in 1970s style posters of women dancing, serving as the backdrop to a pop-up dance studio in which the audience became the subject of her ‘dance portraits.’ Viewers became the performers who were invited to let loose and provide improvisation to their favourite songs whilst being photographed by Andersen.
Diana Chire presented Saturday’s audience with a mix of installation and performance in Hair Manifesto. On two hanging pillows she hand embroidered text with her own hair, which she shaved off and kept. This hair now appears in a new form on a cushion where she rests her head to sleep - the same space where it also would have been in contact with her head before she made the bold decision to cut it. In a comment about black hair one pillow exclaims: ‘others would make comments about it being too big and loud. I wanted to be smaller and easier to digest.’ Chire succeeds in doing this by literally sewing minute, individual, hairs onto a large pillow, where one would have no idea that these strands had been embedded had they not been told.
To accompany her cushions Chire played a recording between herself and several other women of colour discussing their relationship with their hair growing up. In another alcove of the gallery, Chire reminded us just why she is so famed as a performance artist. In a projection of A Body Not Your Own, Chire’s head appears on top of a table, above a body comprised of a variety of bread rolls that form her figure. She explained that she wanted to create something that could be torn at and bread seemed like the ideal material. Within the piece various arms can be seen grabbing at and steeling from her doughy limbs until it is not there anymore.
Touch Sensitive concluded with Girls in Films’ Nikola Vasakova’s presentation of a series of clips that invited the public to sensually explore notions of private and public space. Vasakova’s selection of films moved away from the hyper sexualisation of bodies to explore the feelings that arise from the physical and visual experiences of the female form.
While in some ways, each performance was individual; the show was very collaborative. The lack of a stage left each performance open to audience interaction and interpretation, allowing both the artists and the audience to engage with each other as much or as little as they wanted to. Clarke has explained that she imagines the body as a database, accessible in various ways. Following the performances, this database will be accessible online in a platform where all the performances have been recorded and re-exhibited together in the same space, allowing Clarke’s exhibition to be touched in another way.
Touch Sensitive took place between 21 and 26 March at Guest Projects
Written by Lizzy Collier, a Contributor to Arteviste.