Philomena Epps' Top Exhibitions of 2017

By Philomena Epps

Writer Philomena Epps looks back on 2017 and selects her favourite exhibitions.

Invisible Strategies at Modern Art Oxford and Navigation Charts at Spike Island

Lubaina Himid

Sat 21 January – Sun 30 April 2017 and Fri 20 January – Sun 26 March 2017

Lubaina Himid, Freedom and Change, 1984. Installation view at Invisible Strategies at Modern Art Oxford, 2017. Courtesy the artist & Hollybush Gardens.

Himid’s survey show at Modern Art Oxford, Invisible Strategies, was developed in alliance with Spike Island in Bristol, who simultaneously presented their own exhibition of her work: Navigation Charts. Both shows exhibited work from the 1980s onwards, bringing together works on paper, ceramics, sculpture and painting. Himid’s feminist postcolonial critique seeks to disrupt both patriarchal and imperialist legacies, reasserting the marginalisation of black historical and contemporary figures, and questioning the white and Western-centric nature of cultural institutions. Highlights of the two exhibitions included, Freedom and Change, 1984, an appropriation of Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race), 1922, that transformed the white female figures into black women; the ceramics installation Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service, 2007, one hundred patterned ceramics, painted to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade in Britain; and the remarkable installation Naming the Money, 2004, made from 100 life-sized painted cut-out figures.

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The Drift

Maeve Brennan

Chisenhale Gallery

Fri 31 March – Sun 4 June 2017

Maeve Brennan, The Drift, 2017. Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, 2017. Produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery; Spike Island; The Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

Major film commission The Drift, 2017 at Chisenhale Gallery was Maeve Brennan’s first institutional show. In the film, Brennan - who had been based between Beirut and London from 2013-16 - explored the shifting economies of archaeological objects and historic materials. Informed by a significant period of research and fieldwork, The Drift seamlessly merged serious investigative film practice with subjective fiction; combining documentary footage with staged scenes. The film used three main characters to provide a narrative arc - an archaeologist, the restorative gatekeepers of the Roman temples in Niha, and a mechanic and joyrider from Britel. The oscillation between smuggled antiquities and exchanged car parts created a subtle and intimate set of images, in order to quietly explore the politics of restoration, and open up a multifarious and alternative dialogue on the sociopolitical developments of contemporary Lebanon.

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Devotional Document (Part I)

Wu Tsang

Nottingham Contemporary

Sat 20 May – Mon 28 August 2017

Wu Tsang, Devotional Document (Part I), 2017. Installation view at Nottingham Contemporary. Photo: Stuart Whipps.

Devotional Document (Part I) was Wu Tsang’s first solo show in the UK, bringing together two film installations and a video: Shape of a Right Statement, 2008, Damelo Todo/Odot Olemad, 2010–15 - which tells the fictional story of a Salvadorian teenager who flees civil war and seeks refuge in the legendary LA bar - Silver Platter, and Duilian, 2016. Duilian explored the lost, queer history of the Qing Dynasty revolutionary feminist poet Qiu Jin (played by Tsang’s frequent collaborator, the performance artist boychild), who was executed in 1907 due to her attempt to overthrow the imperial Chinese government. The sensual, magical realist film - primarily set on a colonial junk boat in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour - imagined an intimate, romantic relationship between Qiu Jin and the calligrapher Wu Zhiying (played by Tsang), intercut with sequences of contemporary choreography and martial arts.

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Dreamers Awake

White Cube Bermondsey

Wed 28 June – Sun 17 September 2017

Dreamers Awake, installation view 27 June - 17 September 2017 © the artist. Photo: © White Cube (George Darrell).

Curated by Susanna Greeves, the extensive group show Dreamers Awake at White Cube Bermondsey explored the enduring influence of Surrealism through the work of over fifty women artists from the 1930s to the present day. The exhibition featured women closely associated with the original avant-garde movement, such as Eileen Agar, Leonora Carrington, Lee Miller, Dorothea Tanning and Leonor Fini, along with later work from Francesca Woodman, Hannah Wilke, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Chadwick, Kiki Smith, Alina Szapocznikow, and Mona Hatoum, and emerging artists such as Kelly Akashi, Caitlin Keogh, and Nevine Mahmoud. Themes of sexuality, eroticism, the body, humour, fragmentation and fetishism reverberated throughout the space. 

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Terre Thaemlitz

Auto Italia Live

Tue 3 October – Sun 3 December 2017

Terre Thaemlitz, Interstices (2001-2003). Site-specific text installation in collaboration with Michael Oswell and Auto Italia. Window vinyl, vinyl wallpaper, poster handouts, Tokyo Blue strip light. Installation view at Auto Italia, London, 2017. Photo: Manuela Barczewski.

Terre Thaemlitz’s work combines identity politics with an ongoing analysis of commercial media production. Auto Italia presented Thaemlitz’s 2000–03 multimedia work, INTERSTICES, in their project space, marking the first time the ‘full electroacoustic audio video installation work’ has been exhibited in the UK. INTERSTICES investigates the spaces between non-essentialist gender, sexual orientations, and other constructs of identity, such as queer pansexuality and transgenderism, exploring the topics of intersexual birth, gender reassignment surgery, sex acts, and job opportunities through the lens of the private and the public. On the closing weekend of the exhibition, Auto Italia hosted a powerful and expansive panel discussion ‘On Nuisance’, which explored the notion of a ‘nuisance’ as a subject position, and as a potential form of resistance.

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Philomena Epps is a writer based in London. She is also the founding editor and publisher of Orlando magazine.

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