Wonderland

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Last Monday I found a hole in a street of London which led to wonderland. I was roaming around Berwick Street market, when my eyes caught a bunch of carrots rolling over super-sized, ripe-green avocados. I followed one of them in the gutter and was led, mysteriously, to the entrance of the Riflemaker gallery. I pushed the door and penetrated into a fairytale, a contemporary sword-and-sorcery comic-strip novel, with calligraphed words, strange creatures and enigmatic signs, splashed all over the walls and ceiling of the gallery space. The creaking wooden floor and the smell of a burning candle added to my enchanted experience, as I walked around the room and stepped into the magical world of Francesca Lowe.

Her tale is told almost uniquely with symbols, animal-fetishes, whirling tracks and secret paths onto which humans seem to wander, lose and find their way again, up or down the Tree of Life. I turned my head up-and-sideways to read the accompanying, biographical words of Alistair Gray, whose 1981 novel Lanark had inspired the mural extravaganza, and wished I could lay on the floor and forget for a moment the intruding viewers, the gallery assistant in the corner, my own self. A woman sitting naked in an imaginary fairground ride, head bent back, her face hidden in a HG Wells-like dream machine, fired my imagination. A frenetic deer, a mad bull and a rolling goat with legs apart are joy-riding with her, and multi-coloured rays of light splendidly squirt out of her irradiated body. Absorbed in her stimulated dreams, she is receding, but unlike a traditional nude: she looks grand, focused and driven, both victorious and victim of her own desire.

Lowe’s fantasmagorical depiction of the female sexual drive pulled some triggers in me – a rare occurrence, even within the self-reflexive, feminist visual culture of the last twenty years. Her sexually-empowered woman, lusting for life and its pleasures, comes without predatory instincts or lose morals traditionally associated with such images. Nor does she take on a mythical femininity embodied by a distant Mother goddess. And she is finally far too fashionably futuristic to convey pure essentialism. This is Woman harnessed for the 21st century with a free, but not carefree, attitude to sex – a welcome addition to the contemporary feminist accounts of the female ‘dark continent’: far from the sad, self-deceiving liberation of Millet in Sexual Life of Catherine M., or from the disturbing, almost-religious revelations of Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell, Lowe’s is a celebratory tale of a grown-up Alice on her path to discovering her wonder-full, complex female identity.

Francesca Lowe and Alistair Gray’s Terminus, www.riflemaker.org

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~ by lavivette on October 22, 2007.

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