Kiss My Genders (Hayward Gallery)

An exhibition on gender identity, fluidity, and more is currently in residence at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre.

Kiss My Genders includes photographs, sculpture, multimedia, and projections from the past fifty years to bring issues around topics as diverse as drag, gender dysphoria, beauty, storytelling, violence, and the celebration of self to the fore.

Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Something for the Boys

In an exhibition which sets out to be playfully provocative, unsettling our basic conceptions of what the word “gender” means, audiences can experience queer art, subversive film, alter egos, and much more, through a range of very personal (and sometimes disturbingly raw) works.

Hunter Reynolds – Survival AIDS Memorial Dress
Martine Gutierrez, still from Clubbing

Kiss My Genders may not be to all tastes, but it utilising all the Hayward Gallery’s space it is sometimes unsettling to find an oversized rabbit suit on the floor, a wall of Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker stills, a sexually adventurous set of bum and cock photos, the eyes of a dying Candy Darling, a man dragged up as Marilyn Monroe, a hand poking through a pile of leaves at a crime scene.

Accompanied by a book with reproduction images and thoughtful essays, Kiss My Genders places itself firmly in the gender-fluid space of the 21st century, not just in celebration of its uniqueness, but also in acknowledgement of the wider society’s gaze.

Juliana Huxtable, Transexual Empire

Kiss My Genders continues at the Hayward Gallery until the 8 September. I found it an eye-opening and fascinating glimpse into this complex slice of life.


Fashioned From Nature (V & A, Kensington)

If you have ever wondered about the relationship between raw materials, animal products and fashion, and how this evolved into a sustainable and ethical mindset, this current exhibition at the V&A is for you.

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Set over two floors, production from material such as silkworms, raw cotton, wool and fleece, glass, rubber, fruit, and animal fur, feathers, and leather are explored. You can explore areas such as ‘murderous millinery’, mother of pearl, spun glass, and lace, as well as looking at some more ethical alternatives from the mid-20th century.

The V&A describe this exhibition as “the first to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day”.  Have you ever stopped to think about how your clothes have been made, coloured, or decorated, or are you content to just purchase mass-produced items without reflecting on their origins?

Whether you want to look at how raw silk or cotton evolved into stylish and functional pieces, or consider the utilisation of beetle cases and wings or mother of pearl for embellishment, you will see items on display which make you stop and think.  You will also see clothing made from a combination of materials, including real fur and feathers, discarded yarn, and even a German parachute.

You will be able to consider the workmanship that goes into spun glass or lace items, see the influence of fashion from around the world, and (briefly) reflect on the influence of outside movements such as punk or the industrial revolution.

Tickets for this exhibition are £12 and there is no need to book in advance.  There is also a fascinating book which accompanies the show, with additional text and photographs, which costs £18, and several items in the shop which compliment the items on show.

Fashioned from Nature runs until the 27th January 2019.

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History Is Now – exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Any exhibition which aims to present a history of British culture from 1945 to the present day has to be wide-ranging and risk-taking, and the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition manages to be both.

Seven curators have presented six exhibitions within this space and generic umbrella of ‘History is Now’, and although there are no obvious links between the different shows, together they present an immersive snapshot of the country as it was, and where it is going.

Richard Wentworth’s section, on the top floor of the gallery, goes back the furthest, presenting photographs, sketches and texts around the immediate aftermath of the war, along with books about the period arranged above head height, covers facing downwards, on glass shelves.  His vision also includes a surface to air missile which sits outside in the Southbank Centre’s space, aimed towards the financial heart of modern London.

Hannah Starkey’s set of images includes collages of advertising from the 1970s, hugely sexist and geared towards a culture which has all but disappeared, where shoes, household appliances, and politics could be presented in ways that – if you remove the sexual politics and objectivity from the equation – remain startling and innovative.  Her section also includes real life photographs of destitution and degradation which are at odds with the glossy images depicted in the advertising.

John Akromfrah presents seventeen films which look at Britain’s artistic past and future – in themselves they represent hours of footage on which we only quickly glanced on our visit – but there is material from Hepworth, Bacon, and others, which could repay repeat visits.

The Wilson twins Jane and Louise focus much of their attention on Northern Ireland and the Troubles, in a thought-provoking set of images, paintings and texts which focus on both sides of the issue.  The most powerful piece in their section though might be the cage of gloves, each representing a person unemployed with hands idle at the height of the employment crisis of the 1980s.

Roger Hiorns presents a whole room devoted to BSE and the hysteria around mad cow disease – hard to remember now how this was headline news for so long, but newspaper covers, articles, reports, photographs and other artifacts remind us of the fact – a peripheral side effect of this is seeing what else was news at the time, which caused some nostalgia when viewing this particular exhibit.

Finally, and the first section you will see on entering the Hayward, Simon Fujiwara shows us David Beckham sleeping, Meryl Streep’s costume for ‘The Iron Lady’, some plastic cutlery, a couple of bin bags, and Damien Hirst’s dot painting (his cattle heads in formaldehyde are in Hiorns’ section).  This is the most ephemeral and the least engaging part of the exhibition, but the one which is the most flash – even including a section of balcony from a Canary Wharf apartment.

A mixed exhibition, and one which does require some attention to be paid to its messages and juxtapositions – we took nearly two hours to circulate on its preview night and could have stayed longer, had we engaged with every film on show.  I particularly liked the photographs from Erin Pizzey’s Chiswick Women’s Refuge, the items from Greenham Common peace camp, and the sense of history once you move away from the throwaway nature of Fujiwara’s vision into something with just that bit more depth.

Goodbye Piccadilly, exhibition at London Transport Museum

Running until the 8th March 2015, this is the latest exhibition to use posters and artefacts from the collections of the London Transport Museum.

Goodbye Piccadilly is about the First World War, and more specifically, about the fleet of London buses which were sent into Europe and beyond, along with their drivers, to assist with the war effort.

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The posters on show present quite a naive and chilling message to those back in Blighty at the start of the war, as the examples above indicate – ‘the childrens recruiting depots’ being an example which made me particularly shudder.

Other notable artefacts include the plate which adorned ‘Ole Bill’, one of those commandeered buses, the war memorial to the fallen, a bus conductress’ uniform, and more.

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There are two books to accompany this exhibition, and both are well worth getting (and currently available in the Museum shop at £20 for the pair).

There is also a wall where you can add your own message to the soldiers and civilians of the Great War, and one such item, drawn by a child, simply said ‘Thank you’.  With all the commemoration of the 1914-18 conflict we sometimes forget the scale of sacrifice, and how everyone joined up, expecting the conflict to be ‘over by Christmas’.