Part I - Performances: 24 – 30 April, 2015, 7pm each night
Part II - Exhibition: 7 May – 20 June 2015
Autograph ABP presents Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind, the first UK solo exhibition by Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers.
Presented in two parts, seven evening performances in the gallery followed by a seven-week exhibition, Whip it Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind retraces the footsteps of colonialism and maps the contemporary reverberations of the triangular slave trade via a series of performances that will result in a body of new ‘action’ paintings.
Jeannette Ehler’s practice takes the form of simple actions, which erase, enhance or animate historical spaces, raising complex questions about memory, race and colonialism. In Whip It Good, Ehlers fiercely confronts national and personal histories in an effort to critically reimagine and challenge racist systems of power and domination.
During each performance, the artist radically transforms the whip - a potent sign and signifier of violence against the enslaved body - into a contemporary painting tool, evoking within both the spectators and the participants the physical and visceral brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. Deep black charcoal is rubbed into the whip, directed at a large-scale white canvas, and – following the artist’s initial ritual - offered to members of the audience to complete the painting.
However, the themes that emerge from Whip It Good trace beyond those of slavery: Ehlers' actions powerfully disrupt historical relationships between agency and control in the contemporary. The ensuing ‘whipped’ canvases become transformative bearers of the historical legacy of imperial violence, and through a controversial artistic act re-awaken critical debates surrounding gender, race and power within artistic production. What the process generates for the artist, is an intensely focused space in which to make new work as part of a cathartic collaborative process. Ehlers seven newly produced paintings will then be displayed in the second part of the exhibition, Spinning from History’s Filthy Mind, from May 7 through to June 20, alongside a selection of earlier moving image works made by the artist.
Drawing on film, photography and video, Ehler’s moving image works weave facts and images into potent triggers for forgotten memories or lived experiences. Waves (2009), a manipulated photograph and looped video projection, presents a hypnotic mediation on the trade in humans across the Atlantic. In The March (2012), Ehlers uses the portal of the past to reflect on herself the present. Inspired by one of the landmark events of the American Civil Rights Movement, namely the Right to Vote March of 1965, when 600 African Americans marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ehlers combines 3D animation scans of her brain with a haunting soundtrack of chanting voices. In so doing, she poetically references her own rise to political consciousness, with a powerful historical moment of defiant collective action. Off The Pig (2012) represents an ode to liberation struggles and the civil rights movement, and features the voices of Angela Davis, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers – here, the juxtaposition of militant voices and frantic chanting produces a rousing, hallucinogenic mini-documentary. Black Bullets (2012) is greatly influenced by the Haitian revolution led by Toussaint Louverture and shot at the Citadel in Haiti. In The Invisible Empire (2009), Ehlers provocatively places the figure of an elderly migrant (the artist’s father) as the protagonist of a sculptural video piece that highlight pertinent issues such as the plight of those caught up in human trafficking and modern day slavery. Using an archaeological approach to history, Ehler’s dreamlike eulogies to freedom and resistance force us to think about global liberation and the collective well-being of marginalised people in the world today.
Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind is guest-curated by Karen Alexander.
‘Performing Whip It Good over seven days will be both physically and mentally challenging. For me, this act represents a personal attempt to identify with a brutal past while trying to make sense of the present.’ - Jeannette Ehlers, 2015
‘Jeannette Ehlers fearlessly unmasks the pain and sorrow of black lives, while also celebrating occasional triumphs, as she reinterprets colonial cultural histories and reimagines them in the realm of the visual.’ – Karen Alexander, 2015
Whip It Good was originally commissioned in 2013 by The Art Labour Archives in Berlin.
The exhibition's title 'Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind' is borrowed from the poem 'Black Bullets' by Krista Franklin.