Thursday, 27 March 2014

Report on the Silver Bo(x) Campaign

The Silver Bo(x) Campaign

The number of children born annually with an intersex condition is as hard to pin down as an agreed upon definition of the condition itself, but, with an estimated one in every 1,000-2,000 children becoming the subject of specialist medical attention, and many of these going on to be operated on in order to ‘correct’ the ‘defect’, the condition is more common a phenomenon than either autism or cystic fibrosis.

While binary gender classification assumes – and asserts – that babies should be born at one or other end of a continuum for sex, this is simply not the statistical truth. Regardless, the medical community continues to view hermaphroditism as something which can be 'solved' (Disorders of Sex Development - DSD) by ‘corrective’ surgery or by choosing which gender to raise an infant based on the extent of their physical development within – maximally – the first 18 months of life. Such an irreversible operation on a non-consenting baby’s genitalia is surely a horrific abuse of human rights? The current legal situation in the UK, however, which insists that we are allocated either male or female gender on our birth certificates and passports, merely fosters the tyranny.

Many countries around the world (Germany, Australia, New Zealand and India included) now recognise in law the existence of Intersex human beings, accordingly allowing for a third gender (x) to be marked on legal documents, with the individual, in each instance, having the choice of which box to tick. In an attempt to bring the UK in line with these, London-based visual and performance artist, XXXora, herself born with ambiguous sexual organs and raised as a boy before choosing, for herself, a female persona, has launched a petition to the government called the Silver Bo(x) Campaign.

Speaking to DIVA, XXXora explains: ‘I have set The Silver Bo(x) Campaign up myself because I am sick of there being such injustice and abuse of Intersex human rights, currently completely invisible under law. I am seeking the support of anyone who recognises that none of us has a choice over the body we are born into and that we must respect all human beings, regardless of their sexual organs. It frustrates me so much that the UK has still not sorted this barbaric and archaic mess out and so I have been compelled to mobilise this campaign for Intersex human rights. If we sell ourselves as a democratic and “civilized” society, we will finally have to accept scientific evidence over political agenda and give every human being legal equality, regardless of the sexual organs they are born with.’

Within the first week of its launch, the Silver Bo(x) Campaign was signed and supported by numerous notable figures in the arts, including Frances Segelman (sculptress to the Queen) and Sir Derek Jacobi. The campaign needs 100,000 signatures and an MP to back it, in order to be considered for debate in Government. ‘I have planted the seed,’ says XXXora, ‘it has now sprouted and I will continue to nourish it until harvest.’

Please sign the petition and spread the word by visiting:

Artist Profile: XXXora

Artist Profile: XXXora 

Once seen, 33-year-old Anglo-Spanish visual and performance artist XXXora is not easily forgotten. Dressed in monochrome and covering one side of her face with a silver mask, she has a distinctive look. “I've had to live in the binary,” she explains. “Now I will continue to enforce these unnecessary binary limitations on my work and appearance until the UK recognises the hermaphrodite in law and adds a third box to the category of gender in passports, following in the footsteps of countries like Australia, New Zealand and India.”

XXXora, whose pseudonym makes reference to chromosomes, was born with ambiguous sexual organs and raised as a boy. It was only after her time at Goldsmith’s College, that she began to live as her female persona. Since her debut exhibition at the Vyner Street Gallery in June 2012, XXXora has been using the power of art to educate and ignite democratic and scientifically led discourse in an attempt to prevent future generations from experiencing the degradation and abuse that she herself has had to endure. Her artwork focuses on androgyny, depicting both naturally occurring hermaphroditic flora and fauna and celebrities or politicians who either are androgynous themselves, or who exploit androgyny in their careers – “the only real role models that Silver Boxers like me have in this binary obsessed society.” 

Last year, XXXora began painting a series called The Captured Hermaphrodite, which seeks to document all naturally occurring hermaphroditic species. Thus far she has painted The Oak Tree, The Clownfish, The Pansy, The Salema and The Apple Tree. The latter, an alternative vision of Adam and Eve, recently provided the stage set for the Winter Pride UK Awards Ceremony. Every year until her death, XXXora promises to produce seven new paintings for the series. “If I'm honest,” she says, “it worries me that I may not live long enough to document and depict all of the different hermaphrodites in nature as there are so many, but I hope other artists will pick up the baton if I am unable to finish the series.” Hopefully, indeed, they will, and hopefully people will start to listen to her message long before then too.

Photograph by Benjamin Wisely

XXXora is currently running a petition, the Silver Bo(x) Campaign, to stop the systematic, irreversible and barbaric genital mutilation of non-consenting Intersex infants.

To see this full profile, please pick up a copy of the April 2014 issue of DIVA magazine.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review of Astrid Svangren at Maria Stenfors

Astrid Svangren:
before me: I roll in the snow/ rotating/ raveling/ turned/ twisted/ to an expression of instance

behind me: peonies/ disassemble/ loosen up/ breaking down/ collapsing

beside me: enfleurage/ ointmentlike/ perfumed solids/ without body/ engulfed/ collected/ to a given

under me: loose materials/ mishmash/ knocking/ beating/ leaf buds/ opening/ chlorophyll/ watercolor/ unfolding/ fold in

over me: froth of sugar/ corals/ sea anemones/ jellyfish/ seasnails/ all is viewed/ lulling/ as long as it lasts
Maria Stenfors
14 March – 26 April 2014
Swedish-born, Copenhagen-resident artist Astrid Svangren (b. 1972) is not one for short titles. The above poem serves as both the title of the exhibition and as the title of each of the seven works within. And actually it describes them better than any other combination of words I might seek to contrive. I can but try, regardless.
Candy coloured sheets of plexiglass hang like barriers, separating one world from another; one dream’s landscape colliding with a fragment of the next; a window; a mirror; a wall.

Blue: like the ocean, inscribed with the words of the poem-cum-all-purpose-title, scratched and scuffed, graffitied, distorting what lies on either side.
Pink: daubed with candlewax and cellophane. Like sweet wrappers or confetti. The ground upon which a painting has been born. Look a little closer and maybe it’s not as enticing as it seems. Is there something awry in this gingerbread house? Was it the scene of a tussle? Of something more angry and violent? Are the stains and substances not what one at first perceives?

Black and white: hung flat against the wall. Like a net curtain, there’s the desire to lift a corner and peak through the window. Black scrawls and red splashes. Again we pause to question whether we’d actually want to see more, were we able. Two pink silk crescents at the top: horns or lingerie, either way the suggestion is of adult play…
…which involves, perhaps, the cascade of ostrich feathers hanging nearby?...
…themselves mirrored by a tumbling down of yellow silk and horsehair, cellophane and elastic strings. Each work takes something from the last and passes something on to the next. There is a narrative being woven, albeit with breaks. These fragments – each from a story of their own – come together to tell an overarching other.

And fragments from each are hung out to dry on the frame in the neighbouring room. Dried lemons, hair grips, Japanese silk, balloons, metal wire, tights, sponge, beads… Domestic yet strangely uncanny, an unknown magic or voodoo. Again, drawing you in to peer curiously, but then that recurrent uncertainty: Will I like what I find?
At the farthest corner, a mirror reflects it all back. Daubed and scratched, smeared and painted over. Standing too low to be seen into without crouching. Black roots reaching into the ground – that which persists, stubborn and resilient, or that which takes root afresh, striving forth towards a new existence, the next life, reincarnation? The caterpillar becomes the moth. Or is it the butterfly?

Who is directing this tale? The dream or the dreamer? The artist or the viewer? all is viewed/ lulling/ as long as it lasts.


Installation shots © the artist and Maria Stenfors

Monday, 17 March 2014

Review of Viennese Season: Actionism at Richard Saltoun and Austin/Desmond Fine Art

Viennese Season: Actionism
Richard Saltoun, London
7 March – 4 April 2014
Austin/Desmond Fine Art
6 March – 4 April 2014

Suggestive, affective, nauseating. How to respond but with a wince, looking quickly away, perhaps a shudder right through to your groin, and then looking back to check whether what you thought you saw, really was what you saw? In 1960s Vienna, four men began producing art like never before. Along with body art, performance art and Fluxus elsewhere, they sought to take painting away from the constraints of the canvas – to use the body as both brush and canvas, to test its limits, to use it as raw material, raw flesh, to be butchered and reconstituted in performances or aktions, a full-on rejection of object-based or commodifiable art forms. Their wilfully transgressive and violently sensational works, sometimes performed for an audience, at other times for the camera, are looked on today as a body of work labelled as Viennese Actionism, and this joint exposé by Richard Saltoun and Austin/Desmond Fine Art constitutes the first major survey of the works in the UK.

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Friday, 14 March 2014

Interview with Liliane Lijn

When Liliane Lijn (b1939) invites us to her studio in Haringey, east London, on one of the wettest and windiest days of the year, we come bundled up in jumpers, expecting a large, cold, warehouse-type setting, but, instead, we are met by an assistant and ushered in for tea and biscuits in a beautifully spacious, well-lit, and, more importantly, well-heated studio-cum-gallery space.

After initial introductions and the removal of our soggy outer garments, Lijn conducts a thorough studio tour, turning on each of the amazing and sometimes ominously towering works from across her long career, creating a gentle background whirr, and beginning with some early koans (imperial white rotating cones with slivers of colour slicing through them at angles) and a collection of Poemcons (cones with text carved into them, lit from within, similarly rotating), she progresses via fragmentations of the self (for example, My Body, My Self, 1996) and tales of singing to looming feminine creations (her Cosmic Dramas series from the 80s), to fragmentations of her Aerogel pieces, resulting from a residency with NASA in 2005. With all this talk of stardust and lines of light interacting in four dimensions (the fourth being time), it is hard to believe that Lijn’s scientific knowledge is all self-taught. She shrugs this off nonchalantly, however: “That’s all science is, really, observation. I’m just interested in it and so I read.” It seems that a lot of Lijn’s success comes from “just being interested”. Over more biscuits and more tea, we continue to chat.

To read the interview and watch a video tour of Lijn's studio, please go to:

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Review of Paula MacArthur: Infinitely Precious Things at 60 Threadneedle Street

Paula MacArthur: Infinitely Precious Things
60 Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8HP
24 January – 2 May 2014
extended until 9 May 2014

Thick, vibrant, brightly coloured, viscous paint, sparkling, shimmering and reflecting light, both from its surface and from its subject. Like from pools of oil, or petrol in a puddle, thousands of tiny rainbows are refracted. Suns and stars, burning and emitting heat, bright against the night sky. Yet the threat of meltdown looms, fragility and ethereality, drops of water amidst the oil causing it to disperse.

We’re in the heart of the City and looking at a giant heart-shaped diamond – the centenary diamond – on an immense 2x3 metre canvas. Let Me Hear You Say The Words I Want To Hear. It’s a new work by award winning painter Paula MacArthur (she won the John Player Portrait Award – now the BP Portrait Award – whilst completing her degree at Loughborough College of Art & Design, and later also won a prize in the John Moores competition). Originally a portrait painter, MacArthur has been working with gemstones for a couple of years now, since a visit to the collection at the Natural History Museum for her 15th (crystal) wedding anniversary. Inspired, she painted a watercolour of 15 stones from found images, and, from there, from the initial romantic personal gesture, things grew. Literally.

Speaking of her large-scale canvases, MacArthur says: ‘It suddenly felt that that was the size they needed to be. The scale worked for me, with the size of the brush marks.’ Indeed, it is about brush marks and painterly gesture, as much as it is about romance, and as much as it is about precision. There are two stages to MacArthur’s travails. First, she spends time flicking through images – all of the gemstones in the Natural History Museum collection are photographed – and then, every so often, one will catch her eye. Working with her own photograph, she then ‘messes about’ on photoshop. Often there are elements in the photograph which don’t really belong – floating highlights in the background or flaring effects –  ‘I’m not a great photographer,’ she confesses, and ‘they’re very difficult things to photograph because the light changes in a millisecond.’ But each of these elements adds something to the overall composition.

Next, it’s a question of colour. Here, MacArthur becomes excited: ‘It’s the colour that’s the important thing for me in the first place and I just want to ramp it up. These are excessive objects on so many different levels, that’s just saying “More!” really. It’s always the colour that’s the hook.’ And so she puts the colour slider up to 100% saturation – and continues to exaggerate the colour throughout the process, in the painting too, by mixing in lots of linseed oil to make it really rich.

Once the design part has been completed – a process which takes about a day – MacArthur flips into a different mode and is ready to begin to paint. ‘[Now] it is about constructing it, it is about the craft, it is about enjoying the process. It becomes quite spontaneous and instinctive and kind of meditative.’ Working with an A4 printed image, she uses an overhead projector to lightly draw an outline of the gemstone on the canvas – ‘because they do need to be symmetrical’. Nevertheless, the projector distorts, and so she ends up redrawing quite a lot as she works through. The facets of the stone become like a grid and MacArthur treats each facet like a little painting in its own right, as she works systematically across the canvas, thinking about layers of colour. Cyan, magenta, yellow and key. A recent foray into screen printing has led her to think much more in these terms.

Her three most recent works – Now And Forever Until The End Of Time, Let Me Hear You Say The Words I Want To Hear and Who’s To Say That I’m Unhappy produced since she found out she’d be showing at 60 Threadneedle Street back in September, all use a lot of fluorescent pink. This, MacArthur had to mix herself, since you can’t buy fluorescent oil paint. ‘It looks like icing sugar!’ she says. ‘It makes your eyes hurt! It’s fantastic stuff!’ What she likes best is that the undiluted colour has spilled round on to the edges of the canvases, from where it reflects on to the wall, giving a neon glow – or halo – around the works.

And then there are the drips. These came about after MacArthur took an extended break from painting to get married and have children. Having begun her career as something of a purist, trained at the Royal Academy and described even by Brian Sewell (in an otherwise positive review of her John Player Portrait Award portrait) as ‘irredeemably brown’, MacArthur began, in the early 2000s, a series of Memphis works – ‘lots of Americana, basically.’ She was working on a large painting of Elvis Presley’s favourite gun – again, all about excess – when, before leaving her studio one day, she painted the background red. When she came back the next morning, the whole thing had slipped on to the floor. ‘It looked like there’d been a murder!’ Wanting it really glossy, she’d added lots of linseed oil and turps – clearly too much for the canvas to hold. But, amidst the mess, what was left behind was a magenta glaze which MacArthur really liked, and so she started to experiment. ‘It’s a dangerous thing,’ she says, ‘because it can start to look quite contrived. It’s a fine line as to what you allow.’ In Let Me Hear You Say The Words I Want To Hear, for example, lots of the drips have been painted out.

‘It becomes quite fragile with the drips and sliding paint,’ MacArthur continues. ‘It seems aggressive, but it’s also fragile – quite a nice metaphor for a relationship, in fact, something which could just slip away. It is all about relationships and love, really, and what that represents. But there are so many different layers of association with gemstones that I am also feeding on.’ These include wealth and capitalism, which become especially relevant when the works are being shown in the city.

On the surface, from afar, the stones look valuable and perfect, but on closer inspection, maybe there is a fracture or a scratch. Similarly, with MacArthur’s paintings, from a distance, they can look almost photorealistic, but, as you move closer, they become something completely abstract. The focus moves from the gemstone to the physicality of the paint. ‘I think the paintings invite you to come and look at the surface. But, as you try to approach them and attain them, it all just disintegrates, and it becomes what it really is – the paint and the marks. And I really enjoy that.’ Metaphorically, it’s just taking something – a jewel or a relationship – and putting it under a magnifying glass. Hence the role of the questioning titles, all except for one of which are lyrics from love songs (the exception being Of Course I Still Love You which is the name of an Iain Banks spaceship). In Everything I’ve Had But Couldn’t Keep, for example, the drips and rivulets, the streaks of light, rather reminiscent of a Klimt painting, really fit the title, reflecting the idea of everything just slipping, sliding and melting away.

Tell Me Love Is Real – a bright orange twinkling sun – takes its name from a lyric in the song to which MacArthur had her first dance at her wedding. Even this, however, is an insecure, questioning statement. ‘They’re about my deep seated insecurity,’ says MacArthur, referring both to the titles and the works themselves. ‘But I think everyone struggles with that. They’re about the strength of passion against that fragility and neediness. Hopefully some of that comes through the paint. They’re quite big and bold and in your face. Loud and proud. But, actually, they’re quite delicate. They’re tiny things.’ Metaphor and reality melt together, just like the paint, oil and glistening reflections. MacArthur herself has said it all – these works are loud and proud, almost photorealistic, stunningly so, wealth and splendour writ large. But they invite you in, at which point they disintegrate, become abstract, become about the paint, and then, as you move yet closer, they become about so much more – the titles, the inspirations, the hopes and fears and insecurities which plague us all. Such a tiny exquisite and valuable gemstone, magnified and shown large-scale with all its flaws, reflecting back the innermost facets of the artist and of the viewer.


all © the artist

Let Me Hear You Say The Words I Want To Hear
200 x 300 cm

Who’s To Say That I’m Unhappy
200 x 300 cm

Now And Forever Until The End Of Time
200 x 300 cm

There Are Problems In These Times (detail)
140 x140 cm

Everything I’ve Had But Couldn’t Keep
140 x140 cm

Tell Me Love Is Real 
140 x140 cm

For more information: