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Bloodflowers by Elsa RouyCourtesy of Guts Gallery

Sensual and grotesque depictions of modern womanhood

(It’s My Party) I Can Cry If I Want To – a new exhibition at London’s Guts Gallery – questions how we ‘consume’ images of women in our everyday lives

Věra Chytilová’s cult 1966 cinematic masterpiece Daisies culminates in a frenzied finale in which the two protagonists gorge themselves on a lavish banquet of fine food. Working their way along the grand table, the two women devour the entire feast between them in an orgy of conspicuous consumption. 

The memorable denouement of this film by the pioneering Czech director is a central inspiration for (It’s My Party) I Can Cry If I Want To, the latest group show at Guts Gallery. “This scene treads the threshold of the beautiful and the monstrous,” explains the show’s co-curator Ariane Heloise Hughes in a conversation over email. “The two women protagonists engage in a food fight; playful yet absurd, elegant yet awkward, innocent yet perverse. I find this duality characterises the woman experience, both corporeally and socially, so it provided the perfect jumping-off point to share with the artists involved.”

Similarly to Chytilová’s film, the exhibition confronts ideas about beauty, hysteria, and preconceived notions of so-called femininity. From Caroline Zurmely’s use of nail polish (traditionally a “passive means of feminine decoration and vanity”) to Catherine Mulligan’s reimagining of the conventional image of women into something “grotesque, otherworldly and harrowingly striking”, the artists featured in this compelling group show are united in their interrogation of the ideas that inform so many aspects of what Hughes describes as the “duality and diversity of the woman experience”.

Alongside Hughes themselves, the exhibition includes artworks by Juno Calypso, Xu Yang and Victoria Cantons, Vilte Fuller, Catherine Mulligan, Elsa Rouy, Brittany Shepherd, Olivia Sterling, and Caroline Zurmely. All the artists engage in some way with the idea of consumption. Hughes explains: “Whether it be through the depiction of food and the act of eating, through consumer culture, or as a concept, there’s a sense of the objectification and ensuing consumption of women’s bodies by the viewer.”

But this idea is also undercut by the pervasive sense of other corrosive forces at work. “Narcissism is another theme I had in mind when conceptualising the show, analogous to the woman experience and society as a whole – thank you social media!” says Hughes. This idea manifests itself in the suggestion of birthday celebrations that appear in and around the exhibition, most conspicuously in its title. Hughes says: “Birthdays are the ultimate ‘me day’ the day of the self – emblematic of the contemporary culture of narcissism, so it seemed more than fitting.”

Ultimately, what Hughes and their co-curator Ellie Pennick (the founder of Guts Gallery and a Dazed 100 alumni) most hope with this show is to plant a few questions in the minds of the visitors which may leads to them reconceptualising dominant constructs of gender. Hughes concludes: “I hope they will reconsider their existing ideas of the ‘feminine’, of women’s experience and what constitutes womanhood, how they ‘consume’ images of women in their day to day.”

(It’s My Party) I Can Cry If I Want To is at Guts Gallery from January 13 until February 2, 2023

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