Aspex Portsmouth

Week 23, The Personal & The Political, 40 Stories

Les Buckingham, Director 1984-99

Identity can be said to be one of the most developed themes taken on by artists since the Second World War. Who we are, and how we find out who we are, really matters. The current online commission by Aspex of Hardeep Pandhal, who takes us into the realm of multiple identities, continues a long tradition in work by living artists examining identity.

One of the great exhibitions mounted by the original founders of Art Space Portsmouth, was Ego Geometria Sum (I am Geometry) by Helen Chadwick, one of the most influential artists of the 1980’s. Ego Geometria Sum was the first part of a monumental series of sculptures and wall works entitled The Labours and had its first ever showing at Aspex in 1984, with the artist making and installing pink satin curtains throughout the 40 foot square space. Employing constructed shapes with photos of the artist on them, Chadwick seems to be struggling to move or just rest with the objects portrayed. Theses are in fact representations of the artist’s first 30 years: an incubator to represent the artist’s premature birth, a font the artist at three months, a pram is the artist at ten months, a rowing boat marks two years, a wigwam five and a bed represents the artist at six and three-quarters. School years are represented by a piano for nine years, a gym-horse for eleven years and a perfect cube, subtitled High School, for thirteen years. Finally, the years fifteen to thirty are represented by a rectangular column, Statue, which is the height of the artist at the age of thirty. As Chadwick said of the piece:
‘I had to make Ego Geometria Sum as a way of trying to define the past…the self is reduced to ten supposedly immutable forms which represent the pattern of growth… Although I was trying to capture something quite immaterial (memory), the means by which I did it were quite rational.’ The piece is now in the Tate Gallery collection.

One of my long term strategies for Aspex was to show three artists in the same show who were at different stages of their careers. Myself, Ourselves, 1986 was a show of photography by three very exciting photographers, local graduate Rebecca Finch, up and coming star Lea Andrews and the peerless Jo Spence. Jo’s investigation of identity famously led to her well documented fight against two cancers, photographing the medical processes so as to keep control of her body. Lea Andrews’ image of himself naked between his parents shows us both who we are,where we come from and how vulnerable we can be. Rebecca’s take on the display of the body for prostitution in a shop window asked how identity could be protected when subjugated. It also showed how ecstasy can overtake self awareness.

Bashir Makhoul’s touring exhibition Al Hejara of 1993, was both a political and an aesthetic statement, the two areas combining for maximum impact. A Palestinian by birth Makhoul made Arabic-inspired shapes in beautiful combinations of the Palestinian national colours of red, white, green and black. Banned in Israel as subversive, these colours were the essential means for the artist to state both his artistic, his political self and his own identity.

The personal and the political are the foundation stones of the search for identity.