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‘The Re-appropriation of Sensuality’

NCAD Gallery 

(Curated by RGKSKSRG)

6 November -– 2 December 2015

Courtesy of artist & NCAD Gallery.

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene. 

                                                                                  —Susan Sontag – ‘Notes on “Camp”’, 19641

Once upon a time I went to an artist talk and found myself surrounded on all sides by female curators, all dressed in black. In a desperate search for colour I picked out the only artist in the room, wearing the obvious plaid shirt who, in contrast, looked like a clown with smudged makeup against the weave of seamless black. From then on I began to imagine curators flocking out of ‘curator college’ like a murder of crows, gradually drifting into individual slipstreams to disrobe the black of their institutionalised selves, to become something that added up to a curatorial identity; or if lacking an idea, curatorial style. 

However, RGKSKSRG (the paired curatorial practice of Rachael Gilbourne and Kate Strain) are more peacock than crow. After winning The LAB and Dublin City Council Emerging Curator Award (2013-14) they have proved that two curators can become one.2 That is not to suggest that everything that RGKSKSRG have done so far has been an electric experience in the gallery. 

Tonight, you can call me Trish (2014) at Dublin’s The LAB was in some ways, disappointingly dull. Especially if you expected more from the collection of individually electric artists. Pilvi Takala’s Real Snow White (2009) was the standout, perhaps because of its isolation in the atrium of The LAB.3 The exhibition as a whole lacked the loudness and visceral edge that was promised by the group of artists, and suggested in the aesthetic sensibility prompted by RGKSKSRG’s flash online branding. It was whisper telling us it was a shout.

Behind Emma Haugh’s ‘The Re-appropriation of Sensuality’ now showing at Dublin’s NCAD Gallery is the binocular vision of RGKSKSRG. Here we get a little closer to the curators’ promise of “systematic disjuncture”. The exhibition is the culmination and manifestation of happenings directed by Haugh beyond the gallery setting – workshops and such like – which are re-envisioned in the gallery as “collapsible architecture of fabricated panels” and printed pamphlets and posters. The panels, pieced together from a panoply of fabrics – tie-dye to PVC, gold spandex to black netting – hang from chain hangers that could comfortably accommodate a trapeze artist in a tight and tacky leotard. It’s a Camp meat market; suggestive of what Susan Sontag described in her essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’ as “stag movies seen without lust”. Amidst this queer aesthetic Haugh asks the question: “How do we imagine a space dedicated to the manifestation of feminine desire?”

Beyond the rhetoric it is the formalist details that matter here, the little details. Like the meat hooks that seal the envelopes of fabric which give the installation a bit of FIST. The printed pamphlets and posters placed on floor-bound concrete tablets that keep you a little longer in the gallery; or if you don’t have the time, travel with you and end up scattered around your home. It’s the drips of pink paint: woman. It’s the yellow string and tape: Marigold gloves. It’s the black dildo that pokes out of a concrete tablet as if giving the finger: a glory hump? All little fetishes. There’s no centre to the installation. No moving image to focus the attention. No sound to concentrate the looseness. It’s temporary. It’s note-taking. Haugh is proposing rather than doing. So close to the National College of Art & Design and with the word “archive” peeking out from the press release, it could be all read as academic – Liam Gillick in drag. But, I think it is better to turn a blind eye to that obvious scepticism. Because Haugh’s aesthetic sensibility is something, dare I say it, alternative, and should be enjoyed and celebrated for that reason, just like RGKSKSRG.

At NCAD Gallery Haugh is trying to pat out a theoretical space for making art, making love, having sex among women. Tired of the domestication of the feminine, or staving off its general inevitability, Haugh, in this moment of her life as a young female artist, is proposing a sensual space beyond the ever-widening reach of the domestic, the always threatening domicile of womanhood. She doesn’t want the four-poster bed and Laura Ashley wallpaper to frame her sexual life or decorate her desire. She wants to party like men can, fuck like men can, dance like men can  – well, like gay men can specifically. She asks in one instance: “Where are the public spaces designed, organised and maintained by women for women, where are the buildings and backspaces, basements and sweathouses imagined and realised through channels of female desire?”

Is Haugh’s probing and questioning of social spaces where sex could happen or possibly take place just a form of political dry-humping? The other thing is, is dry-humping better than the real thing when it comes to eliciting desire in the gallery. Isn’t desire based in its unfulfillment? Does Haugh continue to stroke this feminine lack from now on, or get her hands dirty? Can’t wait to find out.

[James Merrigan]

Through 2 December 


1    See Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on “Camp”’ (1964), reprinted in Sontag Against Interpretation, New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966.

2    Spice Girls, 2 become 1, 1996.

3    Pilvi Takala’s Real Snow White (2009) documents the artist’s failed efforts to enter Disneyland dressed as Snow White, while the public accept her as ‘real’ in their attempts to get close to her ‘fake’ Snow White.