Surrealism has, conventionally, reflected a masculine aesthetic, with female artists often perceived as objects of composition. White Cube Bermondsey’s latest exhibition reveals how, beyond these restrictions, there is a vast and raging female presence amongst those associated with the movement. Ultimately, each contributor proves them self as a creator rather than an object.
Dreamers awake is a holistic exploration of women practitioners from the last 80 years, including both those that align and alienate themselves from the genre. As an era drenched in the discourse of freedom and expression, it is unsurprising that its influence has long extended beyond its inception. Thus, amongst the 180 works on show, sit artists who, whilst not explicitly identifying as such, spread the surrealist gospel.
Curator Susanna Greeves’ reactionary display promotes those featured as “a site of self-expression, resistance and creative energy.” As such, it is decisively inclusive, with participants of varied levels of exposure and an uncensored breadth of materials. The sombre reality of the inequality that has motivated the selections, whilst rife, avoids hindering the humorous and dream-like qualities which frequently reoccur. From the emerging Sascha Braunig, whose biomorphic paintings handle traditionally unconventional imagery through the lens of a digital aesthetic, to Claude Cahun who toys with foundational concepts, all sit alongside the watchful eye of the earliest protagonist, Leonora Carrington. Seldom exposed to the public eye, Carrington is called upon from the archives in order to embody a full sense of history.
The dialogue that connects these works has often resonated amongst the young and disenfranchised audiences. With the passing generations, however, the shock of the subverted is weakened. The growth of accessible knowledge has begun to satiate our investigative obsessions, leaving the unconscious and the obscure familiar. And yet, whilst the excessively erotic and deformed nature of many of the pieces may no longer elicit a gasp, the sheer scale and diversity is staggering. When brought under one roof the collection serves as an important reminder of the impressive web of influence and strength of the ever-present, if occasionally muted, female voice.
Dreamers awake runs until 17 September at White Cube, Bermondsey. For more information visit: www.whitecube.com
1. Jo Ann Callis, Untitled (Woman on Chair), from the Early Color Portfolio.