Penny Slinger. An exorcism revisited (expo Bozar : Woman)

We are pleased to announce our first solo exhibition
with British born artist Penny Slinger, who lives since the 1990s in
Penny Slinger started her career
as one of the few celebrated women artists in the milieu of the late 1960s
‘Swinging London’. She graduated from Chelsea College of Art in 1969,
formulating her thesis on Max Ernst and finding her artistic identity in
Surrealism. In her own words Slinger recalls that she “was fascinated by the
seamless creation of mythological anthropomorphic figures in urban settings
where the forces of nature disrupted the status quo”.
Through her outstanding interest
in Surrealism, Slinger became acquainted with the British painter, poet and
biographer Sir Ronald Penrose, organizer of the International Surrealist
Exhibition in 1936 (which built the foundation for the British Surrealist
movement) and a cofounder of the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.
Penrose, married to photographer and Surrealist muse Lee Miller, became a
patron of the younger artist and introduced Slinger to his circles, in
particular to Max Ernst and his wife, the painter Dorothea Tanning. Having been
exposed at an early stage to this intense social and artistic influence,
Slinger began to translate Surrealism into a radical new language – above all
incorporating vivid and disquieting aspects of the underground and
counter-cultural concerns of the late 1960s and 70s, as well as references to
Ancient Egyptian imagery and the occult.
In 1969 she was invited to
participate in the signature exhibition “Young and Fantastic” at the I.C.A.
where she exhibited the radical and eerily Jungian sculpture “Bride in The
Bath”, based on a life cast in black resin. Slinger’s interest was from the
beginning clearly focused on a feminist re­formulation of Surrealism’s
potential for self-transgression, and on an emancipatory exploitation of the
realm of sexuality. In the early 1970s, she engaged in various cross-cultural
practices, undertaking the set-design and art direction, for the all-women
experimental theatre group “Holocaust” as well as appearing as one of the
actresses. The groundbreaking and excessive experimentation of this theater
collective provided the base for Jane Arden’s film “The Other side of The
Underneath”, recently re-released by the British Film Institute as a rare
example of a 1970s underground film work directed by a woman. In 1971 Slinger
also engaged with the costume design and art direction for Picasso’s play “The
Four Little Girls”. Successful solo exhibitions followed at Angela Flower
Gallery in London presenting Slinger’s innovative and provocative assemblage
Inspired by the collage work of
Max Ernst, and in particular “La Semaine de Bonte” and “La Femme 100 Tête”,
Slinger published in the same year “50 % – The Visible Woman” – a book that
blends visually and intellectually her poetic writing with feminist collage
work. “I wanted to make a surrealist statement, from a woman’s point of view.
Each image and its poem represents a psycho-mythic confrontation, usually about
the nature of how a woman is seen and how she sees herself.”
“50 % – The Visible Woman” became
a milestone for British feminism and a major inspiration for younger women artists
who began working in the 1970s looking for inspiration and a radical voice. At
the same time Slinger’s book infiltrated the imaginative realm of popular
culture. Upon its publication, ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine wrote: “This book will
become as important on your bookshelf as Sgt. Pepper is on your rackÉ ‘50 % The
Visible Woman’ is a personification of
everyone’s introspection, in a genre that until this
time has been reserved for painting and film. Truly a landmark accomplishment
in the blending of different art forms.”
In 1977 Slinger prominently
continued this approach of an art project realized in book form, with the
publication “An Exorcism”. This project will be at the core of our upcoming
exhibition in New York. According to the artist’s own words “An Exorcism” is a
“surreal romance in photo collage”. Roland Penrose wrote the preface for the
book, which is structured into biographical chapters and events of a young
woman’s journey into a new state of consciousness. In most of the images Penny
Slinger is using her own body and persona as a model; and the story infers an
underlying autobiographical narrative while at the same time transgressing into
newly imagined archetypical scenarios and surreal transgression: a form of
cultural exorcism, fetishism and sexploitation which is motivated by a feminist
perspective. The whole scenery of this crypto-biographical journey is
atmospherically staged, – in the English Gothic setting of the stately home of
Lilford Hall -, that combines the intense atmosphere of British neo-Romantic
painting with the dramatic portent of a horror film.
Penny Slinger worked on this
project with her partner of the time Peter Whitehead, who appears as a suave
and satanic protagonist in some of the collages. Whitehead was an underground
filmmaker who documented the counterculture in London and New York in the late
1960s; notably, ‘Wholly Communion’ (1965) and ‘Tonite Let’s All Make Love in
London: A Pop Concerto’ (1967) and directing in the same year The Rolling
Stones film “We love you” responding to the imprisonment for drugs of socialite
and art dealer Robert Fraser.
In 1973 Whitehead directed the
fictional movie “Daddy”, – a film newly reconsidered by feminist art historians
-, based on Niki de Saint Phalle’s father relation envisioned as an intimate
yet absurd sequence of erotic taboo breaking mise-en-scènes. “Daddy” portrayed
a woman’s attempt to exorcise the influence of her sexually domineering father,
in as much as Slinger’s collage novel from 1977 portraits a woman on a voyage
from being entrapped in a world of repression, phallocentrism and sexual
dependencies to transgressing these conditions on a trajectory towards feminist
mysticism, – Slinger’s outlook at the end of the 1970s.
In her original conception of the “Exorcism” project,
Slinger also designed an extended version of the book accompanied by texts she
wrote, – a photo novella -, as well as an elaborate film script. The film
remained unrealized and the photo novella deluxe edition of the book
unpublished. Both elements – in their archival and procedural stages – will be
part of the upcoming reconstruction of the “Exorcism” exhibition project at
Broadway 1602.
After a long period of
interruption of awareness in the contemporary art world for Penny Slinger’s
innovations and pioneering achievements, her work has recently been
re-contextualized in the exhibition The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in
British Art
at the Tate St. Ives (cat.), 2009 (curated by Michael
Bracewell, Alun Rowlands and Martin Clark). In the same year Slinger’s
outstanding contribution to female Surrealism was re-introduced in the
exhibition Angels of Anarchy. Women artists and Surrealism at Manchester
Art Gallery (cat).
Broadway 1602 exhibited Penny Slinger’s collage work
and sculptures for the first time in 2011 in the group show Threat. Women
Anke Kempkes

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