Jennifer Mehigan, Milly Peck, Bea Bonafini, Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Hannah Tilson, Jonathan Lux, Anousha Payne, Eva Gold
Post_Institute, London | May 9 - May 23, 2018
von Goetz is pleased to announce its upcoming show Hot Milk, opening at the Post_Institute on Wednesday 9th May 2018. The group exhibition brings together the practices of eight artists, working across painting, sculpture, ceramic and video.
The feminist project of Hot Milk, rather than underpinning the work on display, aims instead to call attention to itself—asking if and how the theoretical and historical substance of Feminism can find a use value or relevance for emerging contemporary artists. In the postmodern form of feminism—popularly termed postfeminism, by some—the movement has lost its unified telos, becoming the collective expression of an individualistic polymorph. Contemporary feminisms [plural, therefore] embrace difference and multiplicity. Modernism’s singular “movements,” its monism and worship of genius, sewed its own demise, and political import has been left in the hands of the personal, instead of the collective.
In spite of its obvious successes, feminism is considered to some a failed project; is this evidence enough that collective action must return to fulfill its promise? And is #MeToo the emergence of pop [cyber] feminism that has to potential to re-energise a now-historic political ideology? The Post_Institute will become a “safe space” for the tenure of Hot Milk, creating a confluence of artistic practices under the umbrella of feminist theory, encouraging a reading of the artworks on display both on their own terms and in the context of postfeminism.
“Feminist” does not necessarily describe the works on view in Hot Milk. The show, instead, convenes a group of artists for whom it has varying degrees of importance; from little to none, to the theoretical basis for its production. This does not cast some in the dark, or declare work more socially or culturally valuable—but rather, tangentially to the exhibition, asks the question as to how useful the term is. The curatorial framework for the show keeps a lightness of touch, therefore, nodding to much broader discussions of how curatorial practice—all-female shows—and the revisiting (and rewriting) of histories as herstories, can emerge as more concrete theoretical and historical trajectories.
This soft conceptual framework at hand can be considered thus: can feminism be a unifying political and theoretical agent for contemporary artists? The work of Jennifer Mehigan draws explicitly upon the discourse surrounding cyberfeminism and xenofeminism—movements that have embraced the Internet and technology as a tool that has the capacity to be antihumanist and anticapitalist; freedom from the incarceration of the female body in patriarchal society—her work takes the digital to its aesthetic extreme. In conversation with paintings by Michaela Yearwood-Dan, for example—whose rich, dense, highly-worked paintings of flora and fauna describe a tropical ecology—these practices together highlight issues of intersectionality, essentialism and naturalism that challenge and shed light on the complexities of feminist unity.
Throughout the exhibition, artists nod to broad influences and concerns, drawing upon psychoanalytical and historical themes; domestic spaces, religious symbolism, totemic sculpture, punk and the decadence of boom-time America in the 1920s. In the work of Eva Gold, the qualities of design, function and form, are rendered uncanny in disquieting simplicity. Haptic affect—the subtle hijacking of the senses—bleeds the work slowly through space. The sculptures, which are read through their “functional form” as chairs and tables, are joined by Bea Bonafini’s works, which utilise materials and forms associated with the universal, spiritual, ideology of the home. Carpet has emerged as a motif of substance in Bonafini’s practice; it serves to describe space, its warm, cushioned surface, as a site of convening. But the ubiquitous welcome mat also plays host to more religious and mythical scenes; chairs become ornate thrones, drawings depict ancient battles.
No one practice goes without an alter ego in Hot Milk. The exhibition poses binaries and heterogeneous confluences of aesthetic devices, process and conceptual framing. Lines can be drawn between the practices of Milly Peck and Hannah Tilson in their mechanistic approach to painting, the flat plane becoming extruded from the bind of the wall, proceeding forward in sculptural and site-specific terms. Formal similarities discern patterns and aesthetic cues, but the root of the artworks always encourages a reading that is immensely varied. In both artist’s work, there is a shrugging off of formal and conservative temperaments, instead, sampling more assured, confident choices of colour and of form. Peck’s works are ossified in wood, the technical rigidity of which makes them behave equally as drawings, as paintings and as sculptures. This definitive language of Pop and punk—particularly in Tilson’s paintings, interlaced with references to fashion, motorcycles, flamboyant style, flames and collage that drips with colour and verve—produces painting “in the round;” blueprint-like diagrams of cinematic, geometric form.
Introducing the solo-male voice in the show, Jonathan Lux’s central characters in his paintings are distinctly feminine, even in those representing masculinity. Women are both the femme fatale and the motors of the action; tabloid-worthy in their scandal and promiscuity at times, the paintings are distinctly funny. They evince a humour that seems utopic in its good faith and “happily-ever-after” sensibility. Formally, the paintings hark back to a modernist use of line in relation to the figure; describing the orientation, composition and tonalities of the work through the construction of limbs and shapes. The importance of revisiting histories is essential to the feminist (and to all marginalised groups) project. Modernist forms echo in the ceramics of Anousha Payne, but an understanding of them as a 20th Century schema is limiting. Drawing on the totemic and ritualistic figures of religious practice, Payne’s sculptures would appear to detail a shrugging and deflation of attitudes towards faith in secular society. Their innate structures reveal phallic subplots, creases and cracks that are anthropomorphised in their fragile, seated shapes.
Is feminism simply expired? Should the term and its history be considered canonical, and the practices of contemporary artists working today in the context of fresh hypocrisy, inequity and criminal behaviours, be defined as something different and new? Hot Milk is an exhibition that is explicitly leading in its enquiry into contemporary artistic forms of postfeminism. Transgressing taxonomic approaches to feminism, the eight artists, as they will be assembled in the Post_Institute, will propose a semblance of unity. Drawing upon theoretical, contentious arenas such as feminist utopia and the domestic setting, the broad practical remit of the works on show aims to deepen an investigation into feminist discourse surrounding emerging art practices.
 Fran Lebowitz in a recent Frieze interview stated, “I didn’t pay much attention to [feminism], largely because it never occurred to me it would work. I was, unfortunately, largely right.”