these photographers are using bubblegum body horror to fight objectification
Prue Stent and Honey Long are subverting female possession with the grotesque.
Best friends and collaborators Prue Stent and Honey Long often circle around shared ideas, but they're always linked in their ongoing exploration of what it means to be a woman. It is, of course, a topic populating so much of the art world in 2017, but the duo's approach as always sets them apart. Their new joint show, Soft Tissue, is indicative of their sweet, bubblegum-body-horror approach. They move beyond archetypes and classic representations, to draw on the flesh and folds that envelope our hearts and minds.
Their figures are often faceless and unidentifiable, reduced to flesh, blood, bone, spit, and sweat. It sounds Cronenberg-esque, but Prue and Honey exercise a strange ability to lend a sensitivity to the least human human forms. We caught up with them to hear more about the sticky, strange, and undeniably lovely world they've created for themselves.
You both share a lot of key themes and preoccupations across your work, what is this show trying to explore in particular?
Broadly speaking I guess it would be the elusive nature of trying to depict femininity. We share a fascination and appreciation for bodily details, or processes that seem to have a life of their own. Those that allude to the deeper complexity of inhabiting a body, beyond cultural classifications, the inherent mystery and magic of it.
How does the title Soft Tissue relate back to that?
Soft Tissue seemed to sum up the subject matter of our show really well. Mainly we have depicted skins and body parts mingling with different synthetic materials that have some kind of anthropomorphic quality but also carry an association with stereotypical femininity. The idea of tissue speaks to the breaking down of a conceived body into matter that can be reconfigured and examined.
Across the show we rarely see women's faces, instead focusing on the female body and individual features. How important is the idea of identity to your work?
I think because a lot of the time we are working with a pre-scripted idea of femininity and manipulating, we want to keep personal identities completely out of it. As individual people we all have such different experiences of being a woman but can all relate in some way to the pressure of preconceived notions of being female and how these have influenced our identity in different ways.
How does your work change or shift when you work together?
Because we come from different disciplines we find we push each other more when we work together and the work tends to expand into multiple mediums, becoming an inter-mingling of photography, sculpture, and performance.
This show continues a theme in your work of focusing on borderline grotesque subject matter, and really inverting a lot of familiar, beautiful imagery of female forms in art history. Can you tell us a bit about that motivation?
In a lot of ways classifying something as beautiful traditionally has been a way of overcoming fears of monstrosity, other, and mystery. The "beatification" of the female body maps a history of possession and control. Focusing on aspects of the body that are usually looked over, kept hidden, or deemed less desirable is a way of unearthing its ultimate mystery and power. There is quite a strong focus on ambiguous body holes in the exhibit which I think speaks to this inherent mystery and also strength in vulnerability. It's about redefining beauty as an appreciation for the intricacy and complexity of life rather than a tool of exclusion and subordination.
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Prue Stent and Honey Long