(It’s My Party) I Can Cry If I Want To at Guts Gallery, Hackney, East London , January 2023 – Where were we? Freezing on a JanuaryFriday night in a Hackney backstreet down by the last of the railway arches that are still alive with the old school industry of car mechanics. Guts gallery first came into being just as Covid hit us all, they, like the rest of us involved in art and galleries, have no doubt had a tough time of it over the last couple of years, so yes, it feels good to be heading to a show that looks like it has quite a buzz about it at the start of a new art year. It might be a cold wet night, and Friday is never the greatest of nights for an opening night of an art exhibition but there’s a more healthy crowd heading along the cobbled street – do love this living breathing street – it feels like an event at Guts tonight, an adventure. a party, a proper art show. The gallery is semi hidden up a couple of flights in a new build tower block and tonight is the first night of a new group show, the place is packed, the place is alive.
There’s an ambition in here, a boldness, a little bit more thought, an immediate impact as we walk in clutching the party bags handed to us at the door (tissues, in case we cry I assume). The space is big, the ceilings a conventional low, regulation office space, rather than purpose built gallery. I like the way they’ve used it or at least how the space and the rooms are used for this well curated well hung show. A show co-curated by artists Ellie Pennick and Ariane Heloise Hughes.
At the end of Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film Daisies the two central characters come across a banquet hall laden with expensive food and rich delicacies. Over the course of a few minutes, the two characters systematically devour the entire table; moving from seat to seat and engorging themselves on the platters of fine foods there. Accompanied by a regalia of grand trumpets, the two women end up frenziedly destroying or consuming every single thing in the bourgeois dining hall. They have decided that, since the world has been spoiled by its obsession with the materialistic and its oppression of women, they will be spoiled too.This scene is central to Guts Gallery’s new exhibition (It’s My Party) I Can Cry If I Want To; a group show of women artists exploring visual motifs around birthdays, hysteria and consumption. This show is a celebration of the ‘grotesque;’ it is a carnivalesque revelry in which women’s bodies are presented as transgressive, unbound and open-ended. Throughout the show, figures luxuriate in their unfixed, metamorphic states. Here, physical and emotional boundaries are destabilised and disrupted; bodies enter the arena of the ‘cosmic’ as they extend beyond their own limits through a process of transformation and consumption.
Yes, it is a slightly uncomfortable show in the best of ways, you are challenged as a viewer,(voyeur?). Each piece is given the luxury of space, of white wall, space to breathe, not that it feels like the paintings and pieces would impose on each other in a smaller space, once again the conversations between the works in here are good. No one piece is shouting above the others, there is no battle for attention, it is rather difficult (once again in the best possible way) to pick out a favourite, nothing in here is weak. Are these erotic pieces? they could be? Is it disgust? Does is depend on who ‘s looking or who’s being looked at? It feels very publicly intimate, it feels provoking, it pushes at buttons, at the preconceived notions. The pieces ask questions, Ideas around gender, around behaviour. There certainly a strong collective statement here, something to be devoured, a guilty pleasure? Is it pleasure? is it guilt? is it disgust? Are they wanting to disgust us? Is it disgustingly delicious? There is a collective strength here, each piece demands something, you can’t just politely look, the work demands more of us than just that.
Yes it is a tiny little bit annoying that one again there is no hint of a label anywhere near a piece of work and no information readily to hand anywhere in the building, the exhibiting artists are Victoria Cantons, Elsa Rouy, Olivia Sterling, Viltė Fuller, Ariane Heloise Hughes, Catherine Mulligan, Juno Calypso, Brittany Shepherd, Xu Yang and Caroline Zurmely. Other than the artists we are already familiar with, we left the gallery with no clear idea who had produced what and annoyingly research is now needed. It is an old fashioned notion I know, but it is really that wrong to just want a quiet label under a painting? Does it really impose on a show like this to have a simple hint of information somewhere there? Or is the gallery saying it really doesn’t matter? That little moan aside this is a strong show, a positive show, this is a compelling show, this is a highly recommended exhibition (and yes I really do need to know more about the artists I don’t already know)
There’s a simply brilliant film in a darkened side room that really does hold the viewer’s fascination, would we like a piece of that cake? – Actually there a train line that runs right outside, and right at the level of the gallery’s big windows, you do hope the passengers are catching a glimpse, that would surely add to the show – and no, I have no idea who made the film or who is performing, and yes i have just tried exploring the gallery’s website – it is an excellent bit of film making though and it is presented so well in the larger than life dark of the space with the actual cake there in the floor in the room in front of us all. That film really is deliciously grotesque, or is it beautifully erotic? And is it uncomfortable to say so? You do almost lust after a handful of cake, is that wrong?
The whole show, the whole collective thing is perfectly self-indulgent, it is something to devour and yes it does feel like a an act of self-empowerment in terms of the whole exhibition and pretty much every piece in the space and maybe in terms of the viewer’s experience. This is a strong show, a positive show, it felt good to be there, do try and catch it if you can… (sw)
Exhibition/Artist details And the film we could find no information about was made by Ariane Hughes, it was difficult getting the information, we’re told we can expect it to be loaded on the the gallery’s website sometime next week.
Stop press: Apparently there was a map/list of works and a QR code (oh how I hate QR codes and having to look at a bloody phone in a gallery). We didn’t see the list, we looked for one, no one I spoke to had, it was a busy opening but if there was a list it wasn’t anywhere near obvious either at the opening or when I went back for a second look. I get that we don’t want hundreds of photocopied statements or paper lists piled in the corner, but apparently there are no labels because “artists don’t want labels”, there are no labels because they’re “old fashioned” and a waste of paper and the gallery say “we are trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible”. Labels are, so we’re told, not environmentally conscious, which makes us wonder about those plastic party bags and packets of tissues handed to everyone on the door? So communicating with the audience is an “old fashioned” idea and “most artists don’t want labels”, that seems rather strange to me, don’t too many artists who don#t want us to know where their work is in a gallery. Sounds like more by-the-book art school bulshit to me, and well once again we’re left wondering why art doesn’t want to engage, why art seem to want to be so aloof, why are so many galleries so unfriendly and unwelcoming when you take the time to go to them or when you try to communicate with them? It’s My party is a great show, one of te better shows we’ve been to so far this year (there ghas already been quite a few shows we’ve been to that we haven’t bothered covering, we do tend to only cover the things we feel positive about) but oh dear, come on, surely a big bit part of an art exhbition is the engagement and the communication?
Guts is at HQ Unit 2 Sidings House, 10 Andre Street, London, E8 2AA. The gallery is open Tuesday through to Saturday, 11am until 6pm, the show runs from 13th Jan until 2nd Feb. Not far from Hackney Downs overground station or indeed Hackney central s onot as out of the way as it may feel for those who aren’t based in the area.
Do click on an image to enlarge and see the full shot and t oget a flavour (there are far better shots of the actual work on the gallery website)