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THE GIRLS: Alive for your Pleasure
Zerelda Sinclair and Andrea Blood
Curated by Ben Crothers
12 April - 26 May 2013
Journeying from the transient seaside pleasures of Bournemouth to Queen’s University Belfast, a grand High Victorian Gothic centre of academia in a city port, The Girls present Alive for Your Pleasure, their first solo exhibition in Northern Ireland. The Girls is a collaboration between British artists Zerelda Sinclair and Andrea Blood, spanning sixteen years.
Sinclair and Blood met at school in Dorset in 1992, aged sixteen, first collaborating as The Girls in 1996 at Central Saint Martins, London. In 2006, after a seven year hiatus from their practice, they began making new work as The Girls. Their practice focuses on creating staged tableaux, with the outcomes including photography, video and performance. Encompassing black comedy, surrealism, silliness, camp, double meanings, and a celebration of the absurd, The Girls’ practice takes on elements of the carnivalesque, albeit in their own distinct fashion.
The Girls invite you to enter this haunting, dimly-lit environment, and to experience all elements of their intriguing practice behind the façade of the Lanyon Building, as architecturally breathtaking as it is intimidating, atmospheric and eerie. For the first time, costumes and paraphernalia from past performances are on display, accompanied by overlapping soundscapes, video works and lushly coloured, large scale photographs. Connected through a haunted, end-of-the-pier quality, the works exhibited in Alive for Your Pleasure were all created or originally performed in The Girls’ seaside hometown of Bournemouth, celebrating the strange nature of popular seaside pleasures, from freak shows and fish and chips to the waxy ‘breathing’ automata of yesteryear. The frivolity of Bournemouth life contrasts sharply with the troubled history of this industrial city, creating a striking juxtaposition, but The Girls’ work has the power to provoke, shock and disturb, and somehow feels equally at home here.
Referencing white weddings, family portraiture, garden parties, bathing and beauty pageants, The Girls’ performances and staged tableaux blur or distort the binary divisions between rich and poor, ugly and beautiful, powerful and meek through costumes, masks and assumed identities, as discussed by Bevis Fenner in his illuminating essay about The Girls‘ practice, The Grand Grotesque Parade: Carnivalesque and the British Seaside (2011). We see The Girls as Queens, characters from fairytales, ghostly beings and mermaids in a range of works that sit somewhere between self-portraiture and performance. Just who are these women whose image we are presented with time and time again, yet who are always concealed behind masks, wigs, costumes and make-up? The Girls are rarely absent from their images, they often perform live in the gallery, yet they always remain enigmatic. Sinclair and Blood shed their individual identities to become The Girls, a compelling, chameleonic duo who are always unmistakably present in their work, but just out of our reach.
The Girls have exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery, the ICA, the National Portrait Gallery, PayneShurvell, the Art Car Boot Fair, Beverley Knowles Fine Art (all London), Golden Thread Gallery (Belfast), and UNO+UNO (Milan). The Girls‘ Studio (Tate Britain, 2010) was a special commission for Loud Tate, and in collaboration with The Photographers' Gallery, The Girls were artists-in-residence at Selfridges' Ultralounge, London, in 2010. The Girls conceived and directed The Grand Grotesque Parade, a multi-collaborative commissioned project for the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival 2011, which re-imagined a forgotten Edwardian carnival. They will next perform at Palazzo Zenobio as part of 2013’s Venice Biennale in association with Arts Pavilion Bournemouth.