‘There’s a lefty, rose-tinted glaze around feminism’: artist duo Quinlan and Hastings

For the past five years the artist duo Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings have been focused on gay bars. A couple as well as collaborators, they’ve created joyous one-night-only gay bars as performances, compiled a vast moving image archive of more than 100 such venues around the country and made films looking at how male sex clubs and men-only gay bars reflect a broader culture of male dominance. Themes of safety, belonging, visibility and power dynamics run through their work as part of an examination of issues around policing, austerity and gentrification in society at large. ああ, and they also make wonderfully sultry drawings featuring buff androgynous youths.

Now the London-based artists, who were co-winners of last year’s Jarman award for film, are turning their scrutiny to the feminist movement in Britain. “There’s a lefty rose-tinted glaze around the history of feminism,” says Quinlan when we meet at their Thames-side studio in London. “We wanted to use the same critical framework we’ve applied to male culture to look at women.” Their new show Disgrace at London’s Arcadia Missa gallery explores the often overlooked historical connections between British feminism and the political right through a series of etchings, a film, a fresco, two drawings and a book.

ザ・ 12 etchings – a new medium for the pair – form the centrepiece, theatrically drawing a thread from largely female propaganda groups such as the Victoria League, formed in 1901 to strengthen imperial networks, to the conservative lobby group Women2Win, co-founded in 2005 テリーザ・メイ. Along the way, they take in the suffragettes, women’s voluntary police groups and free-market feminists.

“Our aim was to create our own feminist timeline that presents this alternative narrative, thinking about the British empire and colonialism, white feminism, and how class has intersected with issues of feminism, xenophobia and racism in this time period,” Hastings explains.

In this potted chronology, posh women are depicted cavorting at a garden party, baking cakes to support the empire, breeding perfect privileged children and mobilising in fascist black shirts; fast forward to the 70s, where pinch-faced puritans and scantily clad liberals battle over the morality of sex work and pornography, and a decade later when a woman in a power suit is shown clambering over bodies to cannonball a social housing block.

These compositions take inspiration from the magic realism of Paula Rego’s 1989 Nursery Rhyme etchings and the brutal vocabulary of Goya’s Disasters of War (1810-20), together with other artistic heroes such as William Blake and Gustave Doré. Quinlan frequently pulls out books of drawings to point to sources they’ve used to capture a scene or movement. The Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar series (1484-92), 例えば, has been reinterpreted as a procession of success-hungry Thatcherite women including May and Priti Patel in the etching I’m Not a Woman I’m a Conservative.

Complementing the etchings, a home-movie style “horror” film, Portraits, presents a kaleidoscope of faux nostalgic photographs of early 20th century ladies interwoven with claustrophobic interiors of a Victorian mansion and creepy scenes of Edwardian dolls attended by servants in an immaculate doll’s house.

So what prompted Quinlan and Hastings to take on the feminist movement? It was partly debates around intersectional feminism as well as the artists’ disgust at hardline Conservative MPs such as May, Patel and even Boris Johnson proclaiming themselves feminists. Gender critical feminism, or what the duo call trans exclusionary radical feminism, for Hastings a “defining issue of our generation”, was also a factor. “We were thinking, ‘what is the origin of this?’,」と彼女は言います, “and the natural step back is to the sex wars of the 1970s, to this sexual conservatism that is very rooted in feminism. We just kept going back and ended up in the Edwardian period.”

Months of research revealed unsavoury truths about women held up as national icons in school curriculums. While it may be no surprise that wealthy women promoted the imperial project to increase their influence, it’s less well known that a number of suffragettes joined Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and several were advocates of eugenics.

The artists recognise they may be accused of betraying an imagined sisterhood, but Hastings argues it’s about being accountable as white women. “We’re doing this because we’re feminists," 彼女が言います. “Someone who reads this as undermining feminism is probably complicit within this white racist feminism on the political right.”

Quinlan and Hastings met at Goldsmiths College in 2013 when they were both 21 and began collaborating the following year, mostly with computer generated and digital imagery and performance pieces. They only began drawing together in 2017, but their intricate, distinctive compositions have become a cornerstone of their practice, each piece taking about two months to complete. In the last couple of years they have expanded into demanding traditional techniques such as fresco painting and etching for their uber-contemporary explorations of identity. “Our collaboration is definitely powered by our love because the labour is so intense,” says Hastings.

Across all these mediums, the figures are depicted as flamboyantly virile. “We just love the androgyny of Michelangelo’s figures, with their masculine physiques,” explains Quinlan. “And funny little boobs, really pert, high on the chest,” laughs Hastings.

In their show Disgrace, a striking colour pencil drawing, Mother, portrays a brawny woman dressed to the nines in a fancy hat, effortlessly holding a bull on the lawn of a manor house. Giving a playful feminist twist to the Twelve Labours of Hercules, it suggests that women’s political emancipation is a herculean enterprise. “I just love that she’s wearing that outfit but carrying a bull, says Hastings. “There’s this show of strength, but she’s in front of this English country mansion so there’s the idea that her political power is contingent upon her privilege and property.”

“Whether they’re villains or heroes,」と彼女は付け加えます, “we’re always interested in drawing our characters with muscular vitality to show their power … and think about how it’s wielded.”

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