By Chloe Hyman
PROUDICK is the name of the latest exhibition at Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham, London. It’s also the composite name of the most ogled celeb duo since Paris and Helen of Troy. Remember Helen? The Queen of Sparta whose love for Paris led to the ten-year Trojan War? She has gone down in history as the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ while her lover emerged unscathed, reputation in-tact. Too often society labels the woman in a celebrity pairing the femme fatale. In their first exhibition as a pair of dangerous broads, Paloma Proudfoot and Lindsey Mendick—Proudick—confront this ancient convention.
They serve every Greek trope of female wickedness with an extra serving of the grotesque, finished with a layer of sensual glazing. In Misandrist’s Little Cunt, by Lindsey Mendick (2018), a man’s head is served on a ceramic platter, his piggish face recalling Circe’s favorite way to enchant the inferior gender. The work visualizes what we read in ‘The Odyssey;’ that Circe turns Odysseus’ men into pigs.
Mendick coats the pig-man’s head in yellow and black glaze, suggesting that he has been dressed with the classic combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The artist also garnishes her dish with trypophobia-triggering pink and green growths. The bulbous nature of these gelatinous mounds and suction cups is enough to induce nausea in the most steel-nerved viewer. They surround the head like a bed of lettuce, though the contents resemble eyeballs and octopus’ tentacles rather than leaves.
In realizing the trope of the cannibalistic witch, Mendick draws attention to its ludicrousness. Her imagined witch paraphernalia pokes fun at those who recoil in fear from a baseless myth. But the artist doesn’t linger long in the realm of ridicule. She chooses instead to revel in the violence and dark magic that have long been attributed to femmes. Through the work, she claims her witch’s power. If this is who you think we are, she seems to say, then this is who we shall be. Coating her feast in a delectable shiny finish is the artistic equivalent of licking one’s lips. The viewer can imagine the witch sadistically salivating over the slick surface of her meal.
Though they find humor in performing the female witch character that men fear, Proudick also finds truth in it. The grotesqueness inherent in a work like Misandrist’s Little Cunt speaks to a grossness women-identifying people are often afraid to express, for fear of appearing unfeminine. The work in PROUDICK provides a way to come to terms with our bodies and our emotions, in all their beautiful filth.
Sara, also by Lindsey Mendick (2018) epitomizes this process. It features a footbath filled with painted-blue water while two detached feet rest inside. Femme beauty and hygiene rituals are emotionally taxing and often compulsive. Their purpose is to rid the body of any trace of dirt or hair or excess water. To strip her dry and then moisturize her with shea butter and rainbows. Sara is the site of this ritualistic cleansing. Dirt gathers by way of paint splatters, and blood in streams of red on the inner walls of the tub. At the end of the ritual, the user literally steps out of her feet as if to signal her complete cleanliness.
It’s no coincidence that she is only one meter from the bed. She can slide into the sheets without her feet ever touching the ground, maintaining the purity and cleanliness expected of women-identifying bodies.
Well, she actually has a few options in her seduction chamber. Proudick has presented two mattresses for the friends to recline on post-cleanse, crafted together by Proudfoot and Mendick. Like their predecessor My Bed, by Tracey Emin, these beds are a manifestation of emotional and physical loathing, born of the femme body and the standards imposed upon it. Hands and feet distend from all four corners, reaching out to ensnare the visiting bro who dare not text back. “We take screenshots of text conversations with thwarted ex-lovers, freezing the evidence of their inadequacy,” Proudick says.
The thrashing legs and lifeless arms also reflect thoughts of self-loathing and disgust; bouts of mania and periods of depression. The front appendages in Our Bed (Double Trouble) signify the latter. Large pink monster feet feel heavy as if the bed—and its occupant—are chained to it. Long, boneless red arms sink into the floor, signifying itself as a prison for the lethargic.
Meanwhile, the appendages up by the headboard are manic and violent. Arms clutch a cartoonishly large knife and wrench while a pink-bandaged figure struggles to crawl under the bed. Is this meant to be a scorned lover, someone who left Proudick in the dust? The figure’s torso disappears into a cylindrical shape that plunges into the ground. His pink phallic body, so close to sharp objects, suggests Proudick’s possible take on castration anxiety. In the paradigm of PROUDICK, all fears about the dangerous women are brought to the surface and decorated. It comes as no surprise, then, to see castration so delightfully rendered in mixed media.
At times, PROUDICK is delightful. When confronting strange sexist stereotypes, the artists lean so far into old tropes that the result is a wicked laugh at the expense of the viewer. Our Bed (Double Trouble) has a bit of fun with this while also touching on more serious side effects of self-loathing. There are a few works in this exhibit that strips away delight almost entirely to consider self-doubt. One stand-out is Buns Without a Face, by Paloma Proudfoot (2018).
The faceless bust sits on a vintage table, several meters below a mirror. Her proximity to the mirror suggests the desire to present herself—to perform some sort of identity. But her covered face and her positioning below the mirror also point to fear and self-loathing. She stares at the cockroaches crawling across the wall while the worms that compose her Leia-buns writhe across her skin. Does she, herself, feel like vermin? Negative thoughts consume her until her outsides match her insides. With this poignant spatial positioning, Proudfoot reveals a dark corner of the femme mind—a paralyzing black hole of self-doubt.
The viewer who stands before Buns Without a Face will see their own identity in the mirror, and glance down at the anonymous bust at hip or knee-level. The spatial optics of the work suggest a dialogue between all three parts—the mirror, the viewer, and the worm-infested bust. Such a dialogue might foster empathy between the viewer and this strange, faceless person. It might also force the viewer to recognize their own self-loathing and consider its origins.
PROUDICK bears moments of sadness and moments of delight. Its contents are dirty and violent, but in the bright fluorescent light of the gallery, they appear pristine. Paloma Proudfoot and Lindsey Mendick relish exploiting the fears of men, but also experience joy in accepting the gross reality of their bodies and minds. Their world is grotesque because they are dirty and beautiful.
PROUDICK, curated by Marcelle Joseph, runs at the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham, London through January 12, 2019.