“Dreamers Awake”

White Cube | Bermondsey
144 – 152 Bermondsey Street
June 28, 2017–September 17, 2017

Grace Pailthorpe, May 16th, 1941, oil on canvas board, 15 x 19".

You happily loosen epistemological moorings in this labyrinthine show—including more than fifty artists—that focuses on women’s entanglements with Surrealism. Curator Susanna Greeves wants to find out what changed about the female body, once represented by men as fetishized or unknowable, when women became Surrealist image-makers themselves. Adapted from Freud, the title might better have suggested that those dreamed about have risen up to subvert the dream. So many of these astonishing pictures and objects issue from waywardly unconventional, and often mischievous, imaginations that could hardly be male. Greeves writes in the catalogue that we see the “object becoming subject,” but these works also show bodies re-objectified and re-sexualized along unexpected trajectories that leave the more limited economies of male desire in the dust.

The polymorphously perverse visions of several postwar English Surrealists, including Ithell Colquhoun, Grace Pailthorpe, and Edith Rimmington, feel subversive and pioneering. Pailthorpe’s May 16th, 1941 depicts a gleeful pink amoeba caressed by seaweed-like tendrils, its polychrome anus probed by the handles of two green toilet plungers. Tomoko Kashiki expands libidinal categories further: Her large and delicately worked painting Hello Goodbye, 2016, stages an intricate erotic act between two wraiths enveloped in a personal weather system of swirling vapors. In I urinate on a bench; it rinses everything clean, 2015, Gabriella Boyd illustrates errant dreams using spare forms, vigorously painted.

Heading the list of hilariously disquieting pieces are Shana Moulton’s pseudo-psychedelic dysmorphia videos Sand Saga, 2009, and Morning Ritual, 2016, as well as Carina Brandes’s photographic self-portrait Untitled, 2012, where she is doubled over—her long hair obscures her body and she wears a leopard-skin coat with one large compliant dog on her back. These subject-objects relish their metamorphosing and hybrid bodies, reborn as camouflaged beings with uncategorizable sensualities.

— Mark Harris