Pin It
Lindsey Jean McLean, “Many Directions” (2022)
Lindsey Jean McLean, “Many Directions” (2022)Courtesy of the artist

This new medieval art show wants to skewer gender norms

Hypha Studios’ latest group art show in an abandoned supermarket promises medieval karaoke, ‘flaccid’ knights and chain mail underwear

Not only can the art world be notoriously difficult to penetrate, but every cubic foot of real estate – especially in London – is prohibitively expensive. Hypha Studios was founded with the guiding principle of providing accessible space for artists by colonising abandoned premises on the country’s dying high street with art. “We partner with landlords and give artists spaces totally for free, in return for some cultural events to engage the local community,” explains founder Camilla Cole in a conversation over email. “We have sites throughout the UK, from London to Eastbourne, Southport, Derby, Penrith, Dudley, and Bristol. There is brilliant talent throughout the whole country and we are excited to support it.”

Hypha Studios, which offers support right across the arts – not just contemporary painting and sculpture but music, theatre, poetry, crafts, VR and AR – acquire spaces and then puts out an open call for artists to fill that space with art. Cole elaborates: “When we get a site, we announce it on socials – primarily Instagram – and promote it to artists in the local area. There is a short, free application form that asks what you make, what you want to do in the space and what events will appeal to the local community.”

Their latest exhibition Who Holds the Sword? (in partnership with Get Living) is a group show taking place in a former Sainsburys in Stratford, London, and promises to “playfully skew traditional gender norms via a contemporary medieval focus.” It’s one of two Hypha Studios’ exhibitions (including their show Taste the Difference) occupying the same 8,000-square-foot space and filing the East End ex-supermarket with sculpture, painting, installation and performance.

From PVC pigs’ heads, “flaccid” knights, chain mail underpants, sword-making workshops and medieval karaoke, the scope of the imaginative exhibition is vast. Curated by participating artists Lindsey Jean McLean, Flora Bradwell and Isobel Atacus, the show revolves around the richly symbolic image of the sword, exploring all the many avenues of suggestion this loaded icon offers. “During a late-night walk home we got onto the topic of the lady of the lake and mysterious hands who forges and offers swords in moments of need. From this image, ideas started evolving of holding back the sword and claiming power for the collective,” the trio explain in a communal email response.

“The show grew organically, we started reaching out to artists whose works excited us, in the way they skew traditional gender norms in playful and critical ways. Especially artists who are revisiting medieval tropes as a source of inspiration,” they tell Dazed. “One of the focus points of the exhibition is the armoury, which is a wall of swords by many different artists. We also approached the exhibition space with the concept of the swamp, which is an ambiguous and changing space. Our focus has been grounded in the material and physical encounter as a way to ask wider questions.”

Who Holds the Sword? is running from January 27 until March 10 2023 at 50 Celebration Avenue, Stratford, London E20. It’s open Thurs-Sun 12-5pm. Taste the Difference also opens in the same location and runs from January 27 until February 16, 2023

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, as well as a free subscription to Dazed for a year. Join for £5/month today.