On the 13th July 2019 myself and 5 other OCA students converged on the Haywards Gallery, Southbank to visit the Kiss My Genders exhibition.
I must admit I hadn’t undertaken any research into the exhibition I was about to visit (which is an unusual practice for me). The overriding reason I was attending was to meet fellow OCA students from the London area as this was a regional meet up and chance to share our work/ideas. Even so I knew a bit about the exhibition: that it explores gender and identity. However, I wasn’t sure at all what to expect and I was intrigued to see how people either within or outside of the LGBTQIA community would photograph or document themselves.
Kiss My Genders introduces itself with the concept that gender is not fixed but rather a fluid concept: ‘something to be challenged, reconsidered and in some cases rejected altogether.’ – (Kiss My Genders, 2019). I like the idea of this fluidity of gender, with those who identify themselves as having more than one gender preferring the term ‘they’ to be referred to as the gender-neutral pronoun. Although I like this idea I couldn’t see it working on all people as I for one would consider myself quite straight.
As soon as we entered the exhibition we were impressed upon by the first installation. The installation was by Victoria Sin and was titled: A View from Elsewhere, Act 1, She Postures in Context (2018). It incorporated a video projector, projecting onto 3 massive white translucent sheets. The video it projects is of a person in drag saying sentences that started normally, then often repeat single words or even syllables so the sentence becomes distorted and playful. To accompany the sound, the pictures as mentioned, are of a person in drag with one massive sheet displaying their full body, another their face and the last focussing on just the mouth of that person.
I personally found A View from Elsewhere, Act 1, She Postures in Context (Sin, 2018) very powerful and if I’d known it was ironically going to be my favourite piece of the exhibition, I would have looked at it longer. The reason I found it powerful was down to a number of factors but mainly the way the video picture is projected onto the sheets. The sheets aren’t straight, they have bends and folds in them which makes the person depicted seem distorted and ghostly but still discernible. Accompanied with the voice which as mentioned is playfully distorted too this is a consistent and powerful display. I think as well as being powerful, it makes sense too. Although it seems playful it conceals harder questions of gender identity being on display and how it is perceived. For example, my interpretation was: with the folds and bends in the sheets making the projection of the body distorted, it questions the gaze of other straight people at people who’s gender identity isn’t the same.
Then we started to wander round the exhibition more individually or in small groups. I saw nearby the work of Amrou Al-Kadhi and Holly Falconer. This work was displayed much more conventionally as a single photograph but it still resonated strongly with me. I was initially drawn in by the clever use of multi exposure; in this case 3 exposes in a single frame. The text beside the portrait described the approach taken (multi exposure) and the thinking behind it, although I could probably have inferred their intended meaning otherwise. It described how Al-Kadhi found it a ‘’disorientating’ experience of being in drag as a person of Muslim heritage – the way that it can fracture your sense of self as well as hold it together’ – (Al-Kadhi, 2019). Although I can’t personally relate to being in drag or being of Muslim heritage, I can relate to feeling different or standing out which can be a disorientating experience as well as something that can make you stronger. I feel the multi exposure was an effective and creative way of displaying this disorientation. I think it was ironic that the drag costume or dress of Al-Kadhi on display was the stillest thing in the composite multi exposure made by the camera. However, this was probably deliberate by Falconer in line with the idea that this (and their personality) is the most prominent aspect of Al-Gadhi’s drag identity, then their disorientation.
Then I moved around the rest of the exhibition without making notes in my notebook! The main impression I was left with was the creative layout offset with the rich imagery that was evident throughout the exhibition. Some examples of the imaginative layout were many different portraits of people from the LGBTQIA community but with mirrors on the edges of the displays. This created a kind of maze of images/mirrors and potentially invited the viewer to question their own identity. Another example was a (very!) pink spiral that led into a darkened video room. This reminded me of entering a club and indeed pumping music could be heard getting louder as you approached the centre of the spiral. Overall the exhibition was sometimes hard-hitting, often playful but always thought-provoking to look at as well as hear.
As we exited the exhibition we went to the cafe upstairs and discussed the exhibition as well as sharing some of our work and ideas. I had brought my first assignment for Body of Work with me as submitted to my tutor (A4 format). I received some very useful feedback which I’ve outlined below. The first bit of feedback was the project didn’t really hold well together as regeneration in Deptford. I agreed with this and informed the others I’d since had feedback from my tutor regarding Assignment 1 which I had been responding to with Assignment 2. In my upcoming Assignment 2 I feel the old and new layering of Deptford is much more evident and so in turn is the regeneration of Deptford that is occurring (at a rapid pace). We also questioned why I had chosen Deptford as a subject and if there was any other reason beyond that it was local to me. I thought about this question for a while and realised it was quite nostalgic for me. As well as this it had been what I would consider my everyday for a long time now so maybe this combination of nostalgia and Deptford changing quickly was a reason why I felt it would make a good subject. Lastly, lots of the study group liked the individual images and commented positively on the print quality. Others said the images were a bit safe in terms of composition. I thought these comments and criticisms were very fair. Regarding the safe compositions I would say I had been concentrating on getting a sense of the everyday (perhaps subconsciously) with a mind to regeneration. Therefore they were never going to be that exciting but I would agree some were overly conservative.
Hayward Gallery. (2019) Kiss My Genders. London: Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre. 12 June 2019 – 8 September 2019.