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Elsa Rouy and Lucia Farrow, salt and mud
Courtesy of the artists and Kupfer

This exhibition explores the juxtapositions of girlhood

Elsa Rouy and Lucia Farrow’s new collaboration showcases an abject and erotic brand of girlhood, photographed by Harley Weir

The title of salt and mud, a new exhibition curated by artists Elsa Rouy and Lucia Farrow, takes its name from a poem by the poet and essayist Anne Carson. “And kneeling at the edge of the transparent sea I shall shape for myself a new heart from salt and mud,” reads the full title from Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, a collection that tells the story of a doomed marriage – partners bound by desires beyond their control, through adolescent obsession, adultery, and separation.

This kind of contradiction is at the heart of Rouy and Farrow’s eponymous exhibition, though their artworks focus more on the “adolescent obsession” end of the spectrum than what comes after the coming-of-age. In a photographic series shot by Harley Weir, the pair appear dressed in their own hand-crafted ceramics and scaly latex pieces, posing in grimy bathtubs and mud-streaked bathroom mirrors.

“Girls are cute and disgusting; hard and soft,” reads a tagline for the collaboration. “Girlhood, at its very core, is rooted in juxtaposition.”

Tangled deeper in this web of youth, sexuality, innocence, and revulsion, are images that see their faces covered in bodily fluids, framed by wet hair, and mirrored in the fleshy tones of their garments. A pierced nipple pokes through a bra of ceramic chains. At the same time, the scenes are both erotic and abject, taking inspiration from Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, outlined in Powers of Horror – limbs and liquids cross the line between subject and object, reminding the viewer of their own corporeality.

Rouy and Farrow aren’t just out to disturb or disgust, though. Their “perverse, twisted look at coming of age” (which sees the two adult artists lean into their “undeniable air of girlish innocence”) draws attention to the way girlhood is sexualised by the observer, and how that ties in with ideas about female eroticism and the obscene.

Building on their previous artist practices, salt and mud also includes ceramic tiles by Lucia Farrow and small paintings by Elsa Rouy, as well as a sensual painting by the British-Australian artist Ariane Hughes. Take a look at selected works from the exhibition in the gallery above. 

… and kneeling at the edge of the transparent sea I shall shape for myself a new heart from salt and mud is now open at London’s Kupfer, and will remain on show until September 3, 2022.