Maisie Cousins and Mia Pfeifer first met over an Irish coffee. Mia had wanted Maisie to exhibit in a group show she was curating, but ended up agreeing to co-curate Maisie's first ever solo show instead. Launching next week, Grass, peony, bum is the culmination of years of work that centres around themes of sexuality, femininity, power, and nature. Hedonistic and performative, the British photographer uses photography to actively challenge normative standards of beauty and societal definitions of what it means to be a woman. Whether it's a close up of glistening flesh or the textured imprint of grass on skin, her photographs move seamlessly between humour and eroticism. As well as showcasing her work, Maisie has teamed up with esteemed perfumer Azzi Glasser, to create an immersive installation, providing viewers with a multi-sensory experience. Ahead of the launch, we caught up with Mia and Maisie to talk flesh prisons and femininity.
What was your first impression of each other and how has it changed since working with each other?
Mia: Her coat and those cowboy boots killed me. Maisie is an extension of her work and we clicked instantly. We've been in this process, producing the show, for over a year now and we became very close. Maisie is a rare breed: Transparent, straightforward and with a heart of gold. I love her.
Maisie: Mia is tiny, but you don't realise she is tiny because her personality is so big and open and passionate. We really clicked straight away, I adore her.
Grass, peony, bum, what does this title mean to you?
Mia: Haiku. The essence of the show. Nature. Good juicy bits.
Maisie: I find photography really hard to title. It's a lot easier for me to title something like a painting. With photography it's so literal, and for me it feels pretentious to give them fancy names. I like a list or a factual title. I think I approach taking images in quite a biology related way, close up, getting evidence of natural things, looking at skin. I like science books. Here are my sexy versions I guess.
Maisie, it's your first solo show, why now?
Maisie: Practicalities, money, timing, etc. You don't realise how much you need. It's actually gone on quite a journey, and I am so happy with how it's ended up here and who is involved.
Mia, what was it about Maisie's work that made you want to curate her first solo show?
Mia: Maisie's work attracts me and inspires me. I could see in her Instagram something that was quite exceptional, and although playful, it was not banal. Then we had our first meeting -- which in fact was for a group show! -- and decided that I really wanted to work with her. I only collaborate with people that I truly admire, respect and want to spend time with. I've learned that in a hard way! Maisie has a prolific future ahead of her and her new work is amazing.
How would you describe the exhibition to someone who has never seen Maisie's work?
What are you most proud about?
Mia: Knowing that resilience pays off. It's difficult sometimes when you work and work and things don't happen. But hard work is the key and you should be proud of it. This show proves it.
Maisie: I'm so flattered.
A lot of your work is consumed online, how do you think the physical space of the gallery will affect the viewers experience your art?
Maisie: This is what I am most excited about, I've been putting my work online for so long and it's not satisfying anymore. I am a little nervous, I have one room that I want as a real immersive experience but I have no experience with installation, I feel I have all the ingredients ready and I just hope they pull together. Which is scary, because sometimes I make a tasty sauce and then other times it goes straight in the bin. I am so excited to be working with Azzi Glasser, she is making me a scent for the show. I love smell and find it the most evocative sense and working with a perfumer is a goal accomplished.
What overall message are you trying to convey about gender, beauty, and sexuality?
Maisie: Everyday we are made to feel bad about something, usually multiple things. Everything all the time is saying "Be clean and not gross! Be polite and don't fart. Don't be fat! Don't be too horny!" It's just nice sometimes to just feel the complete opposite. I don't think that's radical - it's just a way of surviving it all.
What do you think it says about women, in particular?
Mia: Is very dangerous to put all women in one category. I don't think Maisie talks about "Women". It's about feelings, emotions and ideas and how to express them and to be free to do so.
Maisie: I don't necessarily think it's much about gender specifically. But - I was having a conversation with a friend recently who pointed out that women have had less time to express their sexuality than men. Off the top of my head I can't think of one movie where there's a female sexually in charge protagonist who isn't portrayed as unhinged, we haven't got any references, so it's like making it up as we go along. Which is why it's complicated and amazing.
Maisie, you talk about putting work to bed, can you elaborate?
Maisie: I sometimes feel burdened by my work as it comes from a personal place and I just want to move on to different themes, which is hard to do when you feel no climax with what you are making. A show is a really good way of doing this.
Peony Grass Bum opens at TJ Boulting on 16th May will be part of Fitzrovia galleries opening late night in collaboration with Photo London where Maisie will be showing in TJ Boulting's booth in the Discovery section along with Juno Calypso.portant.
Photography Maisie Cousins