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A poster for “Hair Manifesto”
A poster for “Hair Manifesto” – happening on Saturday 25 March 2017Diana Chire

Women come together for a week to discuss the female body

Cairo Clarke curates a series of events featuring London artists Lotte Anderson, Hannah Perry and more

Inspired by 90s back issues of Women’s Art Magazine whereby women were excited about the prospects of the Internet, coupled with the knowledge of what the Internet can actually do to women and their bodies (think: the Fappening and revenge porn) London curator Cairo Clarke introduces Touch Sensitive – an exhibition that features no permanent artworks but instead offers a series of talks, performances and workshops by London artists such as Lotte Anderson, Hannah Perry, Suzannah Pettigrew, Diana Chire, Nikola Vasakova and Harriet Middleton-Baker.

Kicking off last night with a performance and visual installation by Perry, Touch Sensitive will run a different event each day until 26 March at east London’s Guest Projects (more details here). A taster: Anderson presents an alternative to your Friday night antics with “Dance Therapy” – a workshop that aims to capture uninhibited moments of dance and bodily movements through portraits that will be published online. On Sunday, Girls in Film founder Vasakova will screen a series of shorts “exploring feelings that arise from the visual and physical experiences of the female form away from hyper-sexualisation of bodies”. With the space constantly changing and evolving, Clarke tells us, “It's like an experiment and a testing ground for ideas and for what women want to share”, with Touch Sensitive’s online iteration bringing everything together, post-show.

Fresh from the opening, we caught up with Clarke to find out more of what we can expect over the coming week.

Why did you choose to focus on touch as a vehicle for communication?

Cairo Clarke: When I was developing the project I was reading back issues of Women's Art Magazine from the 90s when people were very curious and excited about the Internet and technology in art. There was a lot of talk about how women could come together online, and how it was a neutral space to claim agency over the ways you express yourself. I then began thinking about how this has developed and what our relationship with technology is like now. Screens became a big part of this, and I was thinking about bodies in a wider sense, particularly our phones, computers, television, how we see so much through a screen and how we interact with it. “Touch screen” was a keyword and I was interested in the sensitivity you have to have interacting through digital platforms in a physical sense and the connotations this has with the female body, then also how heavily technology is associated with men.

Also a quote by Sadie Plant “If sight has been the sense of security, touch is the feeling that nothing is safe” – touch is an explorative act of communication, much in the same way female body can be often explored, exploited, commoditised, fetishised. I wanted to invite female artists to explore the body in their own ways through the concept of touch. 

What can people expect from the exhibition?

Cairo Clarke: The space changes everyday but overall people can expect to be invited to engage with the artists and work actively, as much or as little as they wish. There will be no permanent objects in the space, with the project evolving through each individual instance and the presentness of those who choose to be a part of it, illustrating the morphology and fluidity of bodies, of public and private space. Encapsulating different forms of expression that present themselves in the layers of our everyday lives and experiences. Yet rather than contain and preserve them, the project aims to encourage their dispersal out and beyond the art space.

“It’s not about trying to unify all of their voices but allowing different discourse to happen in the space” – Cairo Clarke

How did you go about curating the women involved?

Cairo Clarke: The project focuses on exploring the representation of female bodies; politically, sexually, digitally, and I was interested in inviting artists to the project who explore this in their practice, in completely different ways. It's not about trying to unify all of their voices but allowing different discourse to happen in the space. When I was developing the project and planning on who I would like to work with, it mostly came about from female artists whose work I admire. I spend a lot of time following peoples’ work and trying to make connections with them. When I visited Hannah's (Perry) studio for the first time she was hosting Sadface Club there and I was blown away, it was amazing to be in her studio surrounded by her work which seems very personal but also relatable to female experience, and also be in a space where we were encouraged to talk openly about mental health and anxiety. All of the women involved have a really great tension in their work between sharing personal narratives that come together and invite the audience in, but also remain distinct.

What do they each bring to the exhibition and how do they interpret and/or challenge the idea of the “female” body?

Cairo Clarke: Each of the artists involved has their own way of working, and interpreting Touch Sensitive. They relate or challenge the concepts and ideas in very different ways. It's a very sensory project and each artist seems to channel different senses or types of interactions we have in relation to the female body. The great thing about having the space change, and have a different artist take over each day/night is this fluidity. The space and voice are always changing, it’s like a conversation, with each person given their own platform to speak from. Sometimes the space is used for performance, workshop, installation, sound. It's like an experiment and a testing ground for ideas and for what women want to share. You witness these all in separate parts, but the idea is that the online space will be a place where all these separate parts come together to put the whole project into relation to each other.

What do you hope people take away from the space?

Cairo Clarke: My hope is that it encourages people to explore the work and the ideas offered up outside of the space, and that housing these different forms of expression and artistic practice at Guest Projects for the week illustrates there is not one form of communication, not one female body, not one way to express yourself, who you are. It takes up different shape, sound, colour and that's being demonstrated by the different approaches taken in the space. I also hope the digital platform for Touch Sensitive becomes a place where people look to explore the work and the ideas further and take them off on their own journey.

Touch Sensitive runs at east London’s Guest Projects until 26 March 2017