Strange fruit continues to hang from old trees still deeply rooted in ancient prejudice.
The veneer of politeness and tolerance wears thin and becomes transparent.
A few weeks ago three of us went down to the French embassy in London to protest the banning of the burkini on the beaches of France. We wore the Sisters’ hoods and by doing so said we will wear what we like when we like. We’ve been saying this over and over since the sixties. Its tiring to keep repeating the same thing but I guess that’s why we are in a state of perpetual resistance.
Sisterhood is for life not just for Xmas!
If you want real social change then you just gotta keep on keeping on.
I made the hoods for the Sisters of Perpetual Resistance inspired by old images of women in beauty contests who were made to wear paper bags over their heads so only their bodies could be judged.
Also by the Pussy Riot women who said they deliberately chose to wear bright coloured balaclavas so as not to be too threatening.
I looked at the power politics of both those ideas and reversed them.
Yes the black hoods can be scary and intimidating and no I wont apologise because it illustrates my point. Objectification of any sort dehumanises us, removes from us our shared humanity and allows us to turn our neighbours into ‘the other’.
Once you have created the ‘other’ then its a small step to justifying their destruction because you believe they are not made of the same stuff as you and yours.
We all do it in small and big ways and the hoods make us mindful of how deep and wide the roots of those old poisoned trees have travelled.
At the same time there is something really frightening about wearing a Sisters hood in a public place and you gotta get your brave on every time you do it. You draw immediate attention to yourself and feel vulnerable to abuse and attack. There is a also feeling you have to justify your dress. I imagine its not dissimilar to how women wearing the burka feel on the streets of London. I have renewed admiration for those that do – especially those who travel alone.
So what to do to manifest these feelings and this imagery?
I decided to draw the threads together and add the big bang thrill…the glorious nano second before the touch paper is lit that is my own joyous rapture. I gathered some Sisters and Armchair Destructivists and did a performance piece that we filmed.
I’d built Lotte the pink satin Riot Slut chair for my show in 2013 and she had been hanging round the studio ever since. A while back I’d been researching gender and materials in sculpture and had attempted to give Lotte a gender reassignment by replacing her pink satin cover with a sheet lead covering. Make a real man out of her!
But it didn’t work. My lead working skills weren’t good enough for my vision and the stuff is horribly toxic to work with plus I got breast cancer so it all went to shit really. Instead I ended up making a few banners that said things like Shitty Shitty BANG BANG and played disco music at high volume for several weeks with the blinds down and after a while things sorted themselves out.
Eventually I ripped the lead off Lotte and decided instead to reflect some of the personal and political stuff I was feeling by taking her out loaded with dynamite and blowing her up.
Sometimes total destruction is the only way.
So I ordered a load of crow scarers on the internet and to my surprise they arrived by post a few days later without the special police escort I had expected. A friend who knows about such things helped me rearrange all the scarers into clumps and stuff them inside the armchair and then pack it out with feathers encased inside cardboard. Lotte… naked except for her calico underwear and with the word SLUT branded down one leg… had became one big beautiful firework.
We took her down to Old Womans Wood in Kent and tied her up into some trees.
When I stepped back and saw her strung up there gently swaying I heard in my mind Billie Holiday singing that old song Strange Fruit.
An awful sense of sickness and fear and betrayal overcame me.
What had I done?
Gone too far?
Not gone far enough?
I thought too of the of cucking stools used for the punishment of disorderly women in old England. They called those women witches or scolds and there are old songs about stripping them down to their smocks before placing them on the stools and publicly humiliating them. As I watched the chair rock slowly on its rope in the soft afternoon light I imagined myself as both victim and perpetrator.
The abused and the abuser.
Now the chair is no longer a place of comfort and ease. It becomes a body and the body carries with it the uncomfortable narrative of all those pains and prejudices we hold onto and knowingly and unknowingly inflict on each other. The personal and the political is merged. Theres something so profoundly bitter in the air on this glorious late afternoon in these old English woods.
A persistent bad ache …a deep hard undercurrent of wrongness.
The poison from those trees makes us all complicit.
Lighting the fuse and watching the spark fizz and whistle its way into the body is an act of deliberate transformation.
Everyone present is caught up in the thrill and the rise of excitement is huge and shared.
BOOM!… The first blast spews out feathers. Then the second and third and the whole chair spins and flies wildly in a cloud of white feathers and smoke.
It’s thrilling to the core.
We shriek and scream and laugh and leap around while the chair catches fire and burns hot and bright .
The rope snaps and the chair falls to the ground and lands squarely on all four feet.
SLUT leg unashamedly pushed forward.
The triumph is palpable,
The joy universal,
Lotte is free to ride another day,
Redemption is ours!