Alexis Hunter and Kris Lemsalu review: Feminist vision strikes a chord in #MeToo era
Alexis Hunter, who died in 2014, was a key figure in the British feminist art movement, yet this is the first solo London show of her work in nearly 40 years.
She created performative photography in groups and series, in which she’s very often the subject, to explore sexual politics with a palpable anger and no little wit.
Domestic Warfare from 1979 is a narrative that progresses from heteronormative domestic bliss — a framed wedding photo and baby picture, hearts and flowers, a toast of wine glasses — to total destruction, even of the walls around the scene.
In The Model’s Revenge (1974), she uses a gun’s phallic symbolism to reverse the male and female roles in making and participating in art. A similar subversion happens in Object Series (1974-75), which playfully objectifies a musclebound man. It’s a testament to the timelessness of Hunter’s vision, that so many of these images remain so pertinent in our #MeToo era. Only in Dialogue with a Rapist (1978) do the politics feel aged.
It tells of a real experience Hunter had in being attacked by a young black man in Bermondsey, in which she persuaded him against attacking her through the threat of racist violence that might follow. Though well-intentioned, Hunter reveals certain racial assumptions that are uncomfortable to read today.
Kris Lemsalu’s work couldn’t be more different to Hunter’s, but it’s no less exhilarating. Her sculptural installations are enormously diverse materially, with ceramics and found objects at their core.
There’s a hallucinogenic exuberance in her three works here, not least in HOLY HELL O, in which figures in spectrum colours dive into a flesh-coloured Jacuzzi with bubbling muddy water and a vaginal ceramic conch shell on its rim, while Arun jumper-clad arms encircle the bath.
Lemsalu has a knack for plunging us into tableaux that are at once entrancing and repulsive.