Two of London’s most promising photographers (as well as best friends), Maisie Cousins and Francesca Allen, come together in a new show entitled I Feel Sick/Hot Flush. Their ongoing exploration of the male gaze rejects “rehashing pseudo-feminist versions of bygone erotic photographs” by injecting “excitement, anxiousness, and self-assuredness” into a series of portraits and collages that they will use to each take over a room at Hoxton Square’s KK Outlet. While there are flashes of flesh and nipples, the women in Cousins (herself) and Allen’s works hold autonomy over their bodies with their nudity serving as a symbol of self-assuredness, exploration and an awakening.
The show’s title itself, I Feel Sick/Hot Flush, nods to a sensation that Cousins and Allen experienced simultaneously late last year. “We were suddenly given all of this freedom and felt sick and feverish with anxious excitement”, explains Allen, “We combined two titles that are relevant to each of our pieces; we wanted it to sound like a poem.”
Fans of the artists will note a slight departure from previous works. Cousins has turned her focus from portraiture to collage and Allen’s girls are grown – understandable, given it’s been two years since her break-out series Girls! Girls! Girls!. For both, there’s a sense of a creative coming-of-age that feels even more poignant as they take that journey together.
Ahead of the show’s opening tomorrow, we spoke to the artists, collaborators and best friends to find out more.
“Sometimes I think even saying I work against the male gaze is giving the male gaze too much credit” – Maisie Cousins
You’re both taking a room at the KK Outlet – what can we expect from your rooms?
Francesca Allen: I wanted to see if I could make the work I make without using bright colours all the time; how to evoke that feeling or that visual, without relying on colour. I think it feels a little more grown up than my previous personal work... I wanted to make something a bit sexy. There’s a lack of vulnerability in these girls, they’re very self-assured.
Maisie Cousins: I’m showing collage work rather than photography. I recently re-found my love for drawing and painting and using my hands again. Naming these collages has been a big part of the work, I have a new interest in playing with words. For some reason I find naming my photo pieces really difficult, it feels pretentious to me. I think because they are so literal.
How did you both meet – were you friends first or did you meet through the art world?
Francesca Allen: I think we met at a Flickr meetup when were sixteen? I thought Maisie was the coolest person ever. I came up to London that summer; Maisie dyed my hair orange and I lost my virginity.
Maisie Cousins: This is embarrassing but true. I remember Frenchie was so innocent then we took her out to all the horrible clubs! Photographers have the most internet friends out of everyone I know.
What is it like working in the same industry as best friends? Do you ever find it difficult, awkward, or just amazing?
Francesca Allen: I think it’s quite special to have a relationship like this with someone else in the same industry as yourself, to have that insight into how we are each experiencing and navigating work. I value our friendship a lot and I think we are very supportive of each other.
Maisie Cousins: Yeah, it’s great. Sometimes the industry can be so confusing and stressful, there’s nothing better than getting together with a bottle of wine and going over it together.
Why did you want to do this exhibition together?
Francesca Allen: It makes a lot of sense. We’re at very similar stages in our lives right now. I know that I have always drawn influences from Maisie’s work, and we have been fairly involved in each other’s work for a while now. Our work is visually very different, but I think it comes from a similar place. We have similar taste when it comes to visuals.
Maisie Cousins: What she said! I also think we have a similar colour palette and it seemed right on an aesthetic level too. We naturally explore very similar themes as both our work is very personal.
How did you interpret the ‘male gaze’ to make it different from what we usually see when it comes to feminism and art?
Francesca Allen: Contending the ‘male gaze’ was definitely not something we consciously intended to do, but I do think a woman making work is inherently oppositional to that. It’s inescapable in a sense. The way I’ve been presenting women is very much a reflection of how I’ve been feeling, or perhaps how I want to feel.
Maisie Cousins: I guess I am constantly working against it subconsciously. Sometimes I think even saying I work against the male gaze is giving the male gaze too much credit.
Maisie, you’ve recently been exploring collage work as well as still life – why the departure from portraiture?
Maisie Cousins: I was completely heartbroken recently and I didn’t really feel like shooting portraits. I’ve taken a little break from photography as a whole. I moved out of my home/studio so I have very limited space where I live at the moment, naturally, I started making collages. You can keep everything in a little box and put it away easily afterwards.
Francesca, what is it that keeps your fascination with girlhood?
Francesca Allen: I think it’s a way of self-exploration and a fascination with my own species and kind. I always refer back to my favourite collection of essays, Girls! Girls! Girls! In Contemporary Art, where in the introduction Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman talk about how, “The girl is a figure who is difficult to define” and, “Girlhood is not meant simply as an age but as an allegorical state of mind”.
Do you think you’ll continue to collaborate?
Francesca Allen: I am pretty certain we will always find crossovers with how we make work and how we relate to each other in this way. I’d love to work on a big project together, we want to go away to somewhere new!
Maisie Cousins: We’re currently developing an idea around the two of us making work together in Mexico.
What subjects or mediums do you want to individually explore in the future?
Francesca Allen: I’m working on a few new projects at the moment; I’m hopefully going to Japan in April to work on a book, and I’m also working on an ongoing project with my close friend and model Julia Campbell-Gillies. I feel like I’ve reverted back to the way I used to make work, and creating things in a purely selfish way. I want to make books and I want to have creative control over everything I do right now. I have no idea what I want to work on in the future, I feel like the most natural thing is to keep making, and seeing what comes from that.
Maisie Cousins: I want to create larger scale still life set ups and spend ages on them, working with a slower medium like film, rather than digital.
I Feel Sick/Hot Flush opens 9 February, from 7-9pm, and officially from 10 – 27 February 2017 at London’s KK Outlet. Click here for more information
Follow Ashleigh Kane on Twitter here @ashleighkane