LondonInvites: Rosie Gibbens, Soft Girls
Rosie Gibbens’ first solo exhibition, Soft Girls, features a series of moveable humanoid sculptures, a video and a new live performance. The installation resembles a modern Frankenstein’s laboratory, with fabric body parts scrambled into new configurations and combined with everyday items such as domestic appliances and exercise equipment.
At the root of the exhibition is Gibbens’ fascination with the Anatomical Venus – late-18th century Italian wax models of beautiful women with open torsos displaying detailed reproductions of innards for the purpose of medical training. Death, sex, religion and science swirl around these highly crafted objects. Although not seen as shocking at the time, to our contemporary eyes they undoubtedly appear bizarre and unsettling.
Gibbens’ research connects this concept of the Venus– also known in their day as ‘Slashed Beauties’ – with the motif of the glamourous yet helpless victim in crime fiction, television and cinema. These tropes also feature in the uncanny almost-human quality of sex dolls and crash-test dummies, and the outlandish exaggerations of classic animated cartoons. Simultaneously, in cult horror films such as Hellraiser, Gibbens sees a dark celebration of the violated Venus bodies, with ghoulish agency returned to the previously supine and passive figures.
As viewers move through Gibbens’ installation they become implicated in a physical exchange with the sewn and stuffed creatures. In the performance and video, Gibbens interacts with the sculptures like puppets, pulling ropes and pulleys to help them to perform deadpan stripteases and enact euphemistic gestures. Eyeballs pop out from the figures, confronting the viewers with the sculpture’s own form of unsettling gaze. From one end of the room a huge Looney Tunes tongue unspools, a crude representation of erotic and consumer desire.
Using absurd humour across her practice, Gibbens explores gender performativity and sexual politics in an unflinchingly and disarmingly direct manner. With her own bodily experience at the centre of her work, Gibbens describes imagining herself as an ‘alien visitor trying to participate seamlessly in contemporary life, but not quite managing.’
Rosie Gibbens (b.1993, UK) received an MA from the Royal College of Art in Contemporary Art Practice: Performance and a BA in Performance Design and Practice at Central Saint Martins. Selected group exhibitions include: The Artist is Online, König Gallery, Berlin (2021); Ridiculous, Elephant West, London (2020); Antisocial Isolation, Saatchi Gallery, London (2020); Salon Acme, Mexico City (2020); Absinthe 3, Collective Ending, London (2019); Art Night, Chalton Gallery, London (2019); Slow Sunday, Steakhouse Live, London (2018); Learn Where the Meat Comes From, out_sight Gallery, Seoul (2018); Revolve Performance Festival, Uppsala, Sweden (2018).
Rosie Gibbens, installation view, Soft Girls at Zabludowicz Collection, London, 2021. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Tim Bowditch