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‘Invisible Adversaries’

Exhibition dates: 27 February - 25 April 2009
Preview: Thursday 26 February 2009 6:00 - 8:00pm

"The evidence is overwhelming that women suffer systematic inequalities of power and advantage. Sexual stratification in a fundamental feature of the social division of labour in all complex societies."  AH Halsey, 'Social Change in Britain', 1986

"So denigrated and devalued is the women's movement that it is often hard to dislodge the assumptions that it routinely required hostility to men."
Angela McRobbie, Goldsmiths College, 2008

'Invisible Adversaries' brings together a range of international artists whose work explores gender relations. Each body of contemporary work is counterposed with a historical work from 1693 to the present, that forwards a contrary point of view. The artists ask what Goya asked in 1820: are irrationality and inequality umbilically linked? Or are they simply part and parcel of our horrifying selves?

All of the contemporaries start from the recognition that in every modern society, fundamental inequalities have persisted. They propose that to instigate real change it may be necessary to imagine the opposite sex as adversaries. Many of the artists create outlandish allegorical images - primarily using the camera - to re-examine our myths of what femininity and masculinity stand for, and to invert or satirically celebrate the existing set of power relations between the sexes.

The title for the exhibition is drawn from Austrian artist Valie Export's 1977 film of the same name, in which she imagines the other sex to be possessed by "an invisible adversary: a foreign, perhaps other worldly power - an invisible enemy which occupied the town and transformed its people."

VALIE EXPORT: 'Invisible Adversaries', 1976, 16mm film transferred to DVD, 104 minutes. Courtesy Generali Foundation, Vienna

Francisco de Goya's late print 'Matrimonial Extravagance' is one of his darkest works, revealing a wedding ceremony at which the bride and groom have become literally 'joined' in unholy  matrimony, their heads and backs melted into one another.
Image details: Francisco de Goya: y Lucientes 'Matrimonial Extravagance' from series 'Los Disparates' ['The Follies'], 1815-24, Etchig. Sheffield Museums
John Constable's 'A Herald Angel', recently attributed as an autograph work, is one of his very few figurative paintings: an image of perfect, celestial womanhood freed from the pressures of inhabiting a physical body, and of the weight of history.
John Constable (attribtued to): 'A Herald Angel', c1820, Oil on canvas. Leeds Art Gallery
Cotton Mather's 1693 cruelly mistitled book 'The Wonders of the Invisible World' actually provides a detailed justification for the Salem witch trials, explaining how the world is populated by "Spectral Representations". For Mather, "Spectral Exhibitions" were the work of violent, diabolical spirits from another realm; but nevertheless most of the murdered 'witches' were women.
Cotton Mather: 'The Wonders of the Invisible World', 1693. Courtesy Sunderland libraries
Berlin-based Mathilde ter Heijne's 'Woman to Go' is a display of 180 stacks of postcards which can be taken away. Each of the postcards tells the real life story of a woman who was instrumental in pushing forward social and technological change, but who has, effectively, been written out of our shared history.
Mathilde ter Heijne: 'Woman to go', Installation shot, 2006

Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich's sculpture 'Love Cannon' comibines symbols of love and of warfare in the form of a bright pink, four metre infatable, replica of a weapon.  The Cannon has been the centre for several preformances - including a parade in a village of Les Arques, France, in a celebration of peace and love.
Zoe Walker/ Neil Bromwich: still from 'Love Cannon', 2005-2008, Lambda print. Courtesy the artists and Houldsworth, London
Natasha Caruana's photographic series 'Married Man' reveals scenes from 80 'dates' on which she records her meetings with hopeful husbands in pursuit of extra-martital relations, to discover their expectations of women.
Natasha Carauna: from photographic series 'Married Man', 2008, Lambda print.
Sam Fenn series 'Husband and Wife' presents pictures from discarded family albums, which were found in charity shops and car boot sales. The images examine how representations of marriage have changed across a single generation: in Fenn's hands, the past is truly a foreign country.

Sam Fenn: from series 'Husbands and Wives',2008, Inkjet print.
Los Angelino Xavier Cha stages unannounced performances to an unsuspecting public. In her 'Human Advertisement Series' she promotes retail outlets, without their knowledge, by dressing as a life-size replica of the product on sale and dancing outside the venues, internalizing advertising's rhetoric of self-improvement to the point of parody.

Xavier Cha, 'Human Advertisement Series', 2004 Video installation 1'25 minutes Courtesy the artist and Taxter and Spengemann, New York

John Leech's 'Real Flower Show' depicts a display of over-cultivated society beauties under the gaze of admiring male plants.
John Leech: 'The Real Flower Show', from 'Punch', 1851 Etching. Private collection
Alice Anderson's short films are psychodramas in which family relationships take on mythical qualities. Her short video 'The Doll's Day' weaves a disturbing tale involving murder and jealousy, in which a young girl leads male figures into a situation with tragic consequences.
Alice Anderson: 'The Doll's Day', 2008, Video installation, 10 minutes.Courtesy the artist and Yvon Lambert Gallery,
Paris; produced by Espace Croisé
Diana Mayfield's photograph of a pair of statues in Aix-en-Provence reveals one of the strangest reveals one of the strangest sculptures in the whole history of art: a female sculptor either giving the gift of life to sculpture, reversing the Pygmalion myth; or else attacking a recumbent male figure.

Diana Mayfield: 'Statues in Aix-en-Provence', 2007
New Yorker Laurel Nakadate's videos reverse dominant gender roles to disturbing effect. Where she appears to exploit single, older men to solicit their participation on camera.  Nakadate sets up scenarios where the men submissively carry out her demands, and she records the results, which veer between the comic, alarming and tragic.
Laurel Nakadate: 'Oops' 2003,3:25 minutes, three channels. Courtesy the artist and Leslie Tonkonow Artworks+Projects, New York
Charles Grignion's extraordinary etching of 1791 depicts the English 'season' in full swing at the newly fashionable resort of Bath. A comically horned female leads a cast of admirers by threading string through their noses and dragging them like cattle across the city's elegant plazas.
Charles Grignion: the younger from 'The New Bath Guide', 1791,Engraving. Private collection
Agathe Snow's 'Total Attitude Workshop Video' records a troupe of models cheerfully proclaiming their five-point plan to improve their lives. Snow's parody of celebrity self-help videos includes the advice to be transported back in time to Jesus' birth and to Nazi Germany. She seemingly celebrates both feminist history and America's cultural and historical ignorance.
Agathe Snow: 'Total Attitude Workout Video' 2008, 4:44 minutes. Courtesy James Fuentes Gallery, New York
JJ Grandville's 1844 print 'The Cynosure of Every Eye' pictures a Victorian society beauty attending the theatre, exerting a magnetic attraction over the audience around her, who undergo a magical transformation into walking eye-sockets.
JJ Grandville: 'The cynosure of Every Eye' 1844, Etching (modern reproduction). Courtesy the Victoria & Albert Museum
Sedzia Glówny ['Chief Judge'] are Warsaw-based Karolina Wiktor and Aleksandra Kubiak. Chief Judge's work attempts to bring an end to patriarchy by re-enacting age-old myths. Their video triptych 'Trash Bash Rejectamenta' attempts to summon the Greek goddesses of revenge 'The Furies' to bring vengeance upon the forces of patriarchy, and restore equality between the sexes.

Sedzia Główny ('Chief Judge'), Karolina Wiktor / Aleksandra Kubiak: 'Trash Bash Rejectamenta: Part One - The Furies'
2006, Three-screen video installation, 4.50 minutes.Courtesy the artists

Viennese Film-maker Ursula Biemann has for the past decade examined the effects of globalisation on women's labour.  Her video 'Remote Sensing' documents sex workers trafficked both across Eastern Europe and East Asia, layering interviews with women with remote satellite imagery of the earth. Biemann's work depicts the female body as a global commodity.
Ursula Biemann: 'Remote Sensing', 2000 -2009, video installation, 53 minutes
The Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew commissioned portraits of women through every nation and every age were originally printed in 1861. The pictures reveal the economic niches allocated to women across a panoramic range of societies across time and space.
Henry Mayhew: 'Chinese Woman (Prostitute)'from 'London Labour and the London Poor', 1861, print. Courtesy Sunderland libraries