The Commissions – Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve
Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve
Inspired by the figure of the suffragette as militant artist, Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve have realised a set of works which reference and expose the strategies used by the suffragettes to publicly denounce women’s subjugation. The works have developed through the artists’ engagement with a range of items from The Women’s Library collections, including magazines, reports, photographs and posters.
In the format of an illustrated chapbook, Plender and Reeve address the suffragettes’ skilful means of attracting media attention through an exploration of the attacks waged on famous art works by suffragettes and artists such as Mary Richardson and. Calling in to question the traditional separation between art and politics, they further attend to the futurist F.T. Marinetti’s comparison between militant suffragettes’ tactics and 20th century avant-garde actions against the bourgeois art institution.
The Emily Davison Lodge is a series of photographs taken in The Women’s Library stores and in which the two artists revisit other emblematic moments of the suffragettes’ revolt, as well as their relationship to violence. Plender and Reeve are seen performing different actions in a makeshift artist’s studio, including reading contemporary political theory and having a cup of tea in a tea service produced for the Women’s Social and Politican Union.
The video titled The Argument of the Broken Window Pane takes as its starting point the 1912 Conspiracy Trial, known to have been used by the suffragettes as an unprecedented public platform to get their political message across. On the suggestion that this video could serve as research for the first ever made feature film on women’s suffrage, a set of actors playing the roles of the judge and of the accused suffragists are made to read out extracts of the trial report to the camera. Through an exchange with the artists, they are further asked to reflect on the movement’s relationship to militancy and to project themselves onto the various characters of the trial.
The art works are shown alongside contextual material borrowed from the collections including a drawing by Sylvia Pankhurst.
Olivia Plender and Hester Reeve respectively live and work in Berlin and Sheffield.