PROUDICK: Today but not today
Hannah Barry Gallery, London
Written on the occation of Today but not today, an exhibition of new works by PROUDICK, the collaborative identity of artists Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot, presente by Hannah Barry Gallery (2 October — 6 November 2021).
Furnished with large-scale, cosmic interventions to the gallery space and an array of clothing, ceramic, embroidery and stained glass works, Today but not today was an immersive display of teenage nostalgia and self-discovery that followed from their eponymous exhibition at Hannah Barry Gallery in 2018, curated by Marcelle Joseph, and an off-site project with the gallery at Ballon Rouge Club, Brussels in 2019.
The exhibition explored the alluring yet baited image of adulthood we consume in our adolescent years, its compulsion toward glossy standards of self-improvement and the mercurial worlds of futurism and desire it manifests in.
“This contradictory impulse — between nostalgia and futurism, public and private — is mirrored in the hard-edged but softly coloured platforms at either side of the room. These slanted compositions echo modern furniture designs of the ’50s and ’60s, such as those employed by Alison and Peter Smithson in House of the Future (1956) — imitations of a utopian future still yet to pass, a simulation that has since been appropriated and commercialised by the space age wonder of attractions such as Disney’s “Tomorrowland”. In either case, we see a confluence of domestic upbringing with mass-produced, streamlined urban culture. Promises for a care-free, encapsulated future — rarely, if ever satisfied in daily life.
Amplifying the counter-cultural zeitgeist of the installation is a number of ceramics which combine popular astrology with intimate expressions of personal life and the challenges that continue to affect people across the world: self-esteem and body-image, reproductive rights and the vicissitudes and pains of young love — for many, issues pronounced in our teenage years. The mise-en-scène created, alongside the presence of two chrome mannequins adorned with cargo pants and ceramic charms, reflecting the style of ’00s celebrities such as Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera, is one that juxtaposes our arrested futurism with the unease of adolescent sexuality and style.
The precocious desire for maturity and libidinal freedom is further suggested through design items that elicit the manufacture of these dreams: a cocktail glass with adjoining egg cup, slim fast cans, a dish for exactly six almonds and teenage magazines encouraging the burgeoning sexuality of its readership. Ridden with diet-culture anxieties and sexual naivety, these quasi- functional objects reflect the conundrum of choosing between what is typically seen as “good” or “bad” behaviour for women. Mirrored in the symbol of the sieve or scale, historical symbols for free will and discernment, the glitched line of their embroideries present fragmented female figures caught between different expectations of who they should come to be.
Framed as a chronicle of their own exposure to these manufactured dreams, Today but not today presents a nostalgia for our past — both personal and social — and the naive expectations of our future that continue in the present. Showcased through effuse and colourful worlds alive to the potential of movies, advertisements, science fiction and pop music to influence these narratives, it is an exhibition which nonetheless celebrates an unforgiving and exultant feminism that entwines tragedy and crisis with love, optimism and happiness. Recognising, in the words of American poet Mary Oliver, that despite it all, “You do not have to be good.”