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Ladybeard Presents: Hysteria
(Thursday 22 March) “Technical Issues”, image from Georgie Roxby-Smith, “99 Problems”Courtesy of Ladybeard Presents: Hysteria

This six-day London event will interrogate the sexist idea of ‘hysteria’

Ladybeard magazine brings together over 25 multidisciplinary artists to break down damaging female stereotypes

For years, the antiquated diagnosis of “hysteria” was regulated by men. The pattern was a recurring one; men’s representations of women’s mental illness often overshadowed their own stories. Although the medical conception of mental health in women has evolved, the associations between women and ‘emotional instability’ remain deep-rooted.

Last night at London’s Guest Projects, Ladybeard magazine took hold of this narrative by launching Hysteria – a six-day-long series of creative events. “We want to carve out a female and non-binary space in a male art world,” explains Annabelle Phillips, who, alongside Ellen Pearson, curated the events. “We want to open up conversations between women and to create a specifically feminine space, where no topic is off limits. Through talks, screenings and performance we will expand on people’s idea of the human experience. Basically, we want to celebrate women and hysteria and power and mental health and emotion, in all its messy, complicated, gorgeous glory!”

Scratch the surface of the provocative title though, and Hysteria has powerful, underlying intentions, excavating the history and semantics of the word. “Hysteria comes from the Greek word for ‘uterus’, meaning ‘suffering in the uterus’. So, essentially the disorder originates from the very nature of being a woman,” Phillips adds. “We want to challenge the idea of what it means to be hysterical, to be a woman, to break rules and not conform”.

At its core, Hysteria will present the works of over 25 artists – including Margot Bowman, Natalia Stuyk, Bronwen Parker Rhodes and Sessa Omoregi. Together, the women will come together to free women from the male-constructed images that have defined ‘female disorders’ throughout the ages.

As the event launches, we speak with Phillips about the danger that comes in hand with this old-age stereotype and how we can begin to redefine it.

“We want to challenge the idea of what it means to be hysterical, to be a woman, to break rules and not conform. That you can be angry and not hysterical. That there are different shades and nuances attached to femininity and womanhood” – Annabelle Phillips

“Female hysteria” is often described to us as just that - a disorder affecting just, or primarily, women. Why has hysteria become bound to gender divisions?

Annabelle Phillips: What it really boils down to is the history of female oppression. The term “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for ‘uterus’, meaning ‘suffering in the uterus’. So, essentially the disorder originates from the very nature of being a woman. We wanted to take this idea - of hysteria and womanhood - and play with it, break it open. We want to challenge the idea of what it means to be hysterical, to be a woman, to break rules and not conform. That you can be angry and not hysterical. That there are different shades and nuances attached to femininity and womanhood.

The perception that women are “hysterical” or “hypochondriacs” is a damaging and dangerous stereotype. Do you think women are being failed in this respect?

Annabelle Phillips: Yes. We’re all being failed in some respect. Women are traditionally seen as ‘emotional’, ‘irrational’, ‘hysterical’ – in this way we’re taught to dismiss our emotions and experience as ‘invalid’, ‘stupid’, ‘silly’. In reverse, men are deemed ‘stoic’, ‘silent’, and ‘rational’, and so similarly encouraged to dismiss their emotions. Both of these polarised, simplified notions of gender leave no room for anything in between, so everyone is failed. We need to find new ways of talking about the experience of extreme emotions and mental health that create space for difference and promote open conversation.

The event is packed, so many different art forms and mediums are covered. For those who can’t make it, tell us about the show.

Annabelle Phillips: Ladybeard Presents: Hysteria is an interdisciplinary exhibition that brings together over 25 artists working across different mediums to explore what it means to be a ‘woman causing trouble’. (One of the historical medical symptoms of hysteria was literally a ‘tendency to cause trouble’.) We’ve taken different elements – women in tech, porn, mental health, nudity – to create a series of events that have an appeal for a broad audience. Ladybeard has curated the whole week, but each day is made alive by the artists that feature in the space.

What will each of the artists add to the concept?

Annabelle Phillips: Our opening event, “Technical Issues”, looks at women making waves in the digital art world. As a space that is traditionally dominated by men – gaming, coding, web development – it is interesting to see how this space is reclaimed and ‘feminised’. And, as a space that is increasingly dominating our lives, it’s imperative to address how it’s been gendered, and how we should and can navigate it as women. “Dirty Looks” on Friday 23 March, is an erotic film night with a feminist lens: porn is both a taboo in mainstream and has never been produced by women and for women, until now. We showcase the women making that change. “Spiral” on Saturday 24 March is a take over by Syrup Magazine who will explore the physiological and mental effects of anxiety through sensory installation and performance. WOMAN SRSLY will perform on Sunday 25 March – they are a performance group whose work derives from challenging the preconceptions we have placed on gendered bodies (that girls should move in this way, boys in that). Their performance challenges the very notion of gender. On Monday 26 March we will host a collaborative life-drawing session for women and non-binary people – free yourself from shame and get naked with us! On Tuesday 27 March, XING are taking over the space with Ultraviole(t)nce; a video installation paying homage to the golden age of Pinky Violence and contemporary resistances against patriarchy and sexploitation. Through these events we wanted to bring together an amazing variety of female artists and reclaim the notion of female hysteria; repositioning it as something positive.

What do you hope people will feel, see and learn from Hysteria?

Annabelle Phillips: With Hysteria, we want to carve out female and non-binary space in a male art world; to open up conversations between women; and to create a specifically feminine space, where no topic is off limits. Through talks, screenings and performance we want to expand on people’s idea of the human experience. The opportunity to watch porn for example, all together in a room, and then debrief afterwards is pretty novel. With each evening we want to create a really incredible energy; we want people to come away from these events feeling inspired, with the urge to generate difficult conversations around these subjects.

Ladybeard Presents: Hysteria runs 22 March – 27 March at London’s Guest Projects

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