Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Co. Kildare, 19 January to 27 February 2004
Dublin’s gentlemen’s clubs, traditionally closed to female membership, provide the starting point for this exhibition’s investigation into themes of exclusion, gender, family and history. Cherry attempts to unravel some of the emotional and social complexities of these ‘members only’ establishments. The artist uses her own image in these photographic works, challenging the historical exclusion of her gender, and highlighting years of absence with an assertive presence. Contrasts such as feminine (the private sphere) and masculine (the public sphere) arise, in work that deals with the inscribed gender and power roles invisibly embedded in private leisure spaces as well as domestic environments.
The spatial strategy of displaying the work clearly reflects these inherent contrasts. The upper gallery shows images of the exteriors of various Dublin gentlemen’s clubs, photographs literally taken by an outsider looking in. In the lower gallery, a more intimate space, Cherry turns the camera on herself in an examination of her place within/outside this social structure. There is a struggle to locate and represent herself within this male-oriented culture, and an attempt to subvert its accepted codes of visual representation. Referencing ideas of the female masquerade, she follows a number of artists critiquing notions of predetermined gender/power relations and the controlling male gaze. 1 One image depicts the back of an armchair facing a fireplace. The figure seated in it is holding a glass of port in a formal, white-cuffed hand, a masculine pose synonomous with wealth, power and status: this impression is belied however by the high-heeled foot visible at the bottom of the chair.
There are also two portraits in elaborate gilt frames, of the artist dressed in female and male period clothing. It’s difficult not to think of Cindy Sherman when viewing these particular works, the History portraits series in particular. (Sherman’s extensive oeuvre has really explored – if not exhausted – this territory in as much detail, and with as much success as could be hoped for. This is unfortunate for other artists employing similar strategies, whose work rarely profits from the comparison.)
Some of the most successful works in the exhibition are the pieces that were less obviously confrontational or loaded with historical and social signifiers. This allows for a more open-ended contextualisation of the issues around the disenfranchised and excluded state of ‘otherness’, and allows the viewer more freedom to enter the work.
Cherry’s concern of the historical absence of women from the gentleman’s clubs of Dublin in this work also implicitly refers to their exclusion from the canon of art history – surely one of the biggest gentlemen’s clubs of them all.
1 From Claude Cahun to more contemporary work: see the recent review in Circa 106 of And the one Doesn’t Stir Without the Other at the Ormeau Baths, pp. 68-69
Louise Cherry: Members Only, 19 January to 27 February 2004, Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Co. Kildare.
Sarah Browne is an artist and writer currently based in Co. Kildare.