Sunday 14 April 2013


220. MONOCULTURE  at the Beaconsfield Gallery, SE11 6AY
 continues until Saturday 20 April or by appointment until Wednesday 24 April.

 The Altered Stocks 2, 2013, pine, fixings, household and polyurethane paints, (c) the artist and Beaconsfield
Arch Gallery installation view (Experiment 1: Mono-Portrait and Experiment 2: Growing Rape (Farm))(c) the artist and Beaconsfield
What possible connection can there be between these images?

 MONOCULTURE is Tamsyn Challenger's exploration of  feminine identity, especially as it is expressed in social networks. Struggling to be special, women pay a high price to obtain a conformist submissive 'beauty'. They are lured into posing for a 'selfie' (a self-taken digital picture), becoming avatars (an object representing the user); competitive with each other and deaf and blind to their own unique personhood.

 As someone who used to lecture in the 1970s on the way women were portrayed in advertisements (draped on floors or beds or sofas,  standing in a posture so unstable they could be pushed over by a finger tip, anchored to a man in the lead role) this  is familiar territory. It too was a time when women were urged to shave and crimp and dye and diet in the hope of being loved for what we were not, instead of for what we were.

What is original about Monoculture is the link with social networking sites.The Altered Stocks wittily mocks their pincer effect. We can choose 'LIKE' on the  left or we can choose nothing. Lost are the infinite subtleties of making a real choice. We are struck dumb. We are held in a headlock.  Scattered around the exhibition - set in railway arches and moody cavernous spaces - are installations reminding us of the past: the ducking stool, chastity belts, the 'scold's' bridle, all designed to constrict, even silence, women's freedom of expression and action.
 The Arch Gallery links with other issues. It looks at first like a polythene greenhouse, but the light is the cold blue of alarm. Inside are plots the size of graves lined with black polythene, where sickly seedlings struggle into existence. This is a reference to oilseed rape - and rape. Challenger draws a parallel between what is happening to women on the one hand  with agriculture's practice of raising a single cash crop using risky chemicals, while stripping the earth of  the eco diversity on which the planet depends.

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