Tremble Tremble / At The Gates
Talbot Rice Gallery
Tremble Tremble is a formidable and sensory experience. Jesse Jones’s work was originally created to represent Ireland at the 2017 Venice Biennale, in context of the campaign to repeal the Irish Eighth Amendment. The piece is located in the Neoclassical Georgian Gallery in Old College of Edinburgh University, a setting that reverberates with historical patriarchal oppression. It presents as part performance, part installation, requiring the participation of the audience through presence and attention. A female performer glides like a shadow around the room performing various tasks: dragging curtains along a track; perching on various plinths; sitting cross-legged on the floor as a plume of mist blooms from the gallery floor, recalling priestesses and the Oracle of Delphi. Indeed, witchcraft dominates the idea of the exhibition. Projected videos command the gallery space. Jones enlisted actress Olwen Fouéré to play the Giantess, a figure towering above the viewer and reciting testimony from the condemnation of witches in the 17th century. The audience is captured by the Giantess’s gaze, feeling minuscule in the face of the booming voice. At times she handles a toy pulpit, and strides through the wreckage of a courtroom. While medieval witchcraft may seem worlds away from our current predicament, themes of bodily self-determination and female resistance prevail. The physicality of Jones’s work makes it impossible to forget the history of female oppression that continues with the suppression of the right to legal and safe abortion. Women were burned at the stake for possessing knowledge of midwifery; women are repeatedly condemned for our ability to create life and controlled by the men who view our wombs as government property. The theatrical elements of light and sound envelope the viewer in a cacophony of raw female power. Taking the traditional gallery space and turning it into a space of production and participation is in itself a form of resistance to the patriarchal institution. Women will no longer sit back and be viewed as objects, like art in a museum, but create noise and light, creating liberation through unstoppable action. Radical action has radical results, and it requires an overhaul of tradition. Jones’s exceptionally compelling piece fuels resistance using Irish history of witchcraft and female oppression as a source of power for modern action.
Leaving the dark room of the Georgian, the viewer enters At the Gates, an exhibition featuring seven international artists. All the works are acts of resistance against governments, oppression, and institutions of power. The main hall of the Talbot Rice is dominated by a series of stunning banners created to protest the Eighth Amendment, and many were carried at marches across Ireland. Against the window, Maja Bajevic’s work consists of scaffolding bracketing windows emblazoned with slogans of resistance, existing as an incomplete work that requires performance. The slogans are repeatedly washed off and rewritten, building history that continues in a perpetual cycle. The other works similarly express ideas of resistance and self-determination, offering art that intimately connects the experience of the female body to its oppression. Upstairs, Teresa Margolles exhibits an exquisitely embroidered muslin cloth, done by indigenous women of Panama, Mexico, and Guatemala. The cloth is stained with the blood of a murdered Guatemalan woman, and the embroidery delicately snakes around the brown patches. A video by these same women plays nearby; they discuss the power imbalances and oppressive structures of their own societies. Sound pieces reverberate across the gallery along with Maya Bajevic’s video How Do You Want to Be Governed, 2009. At The Gates contains many works by a vast array of female artists, establishing new orders of female empowerment and a fight against oppression.
Tremble Tremble and At The Gates are works that demand attention. The artists are not asking permission nor using the gallery space in its traditional form. The exhibits disturb and disrupt, forming a resistance to institutions and patriarchy.
Until 26th January, free admission
Words: Kelli Staake