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Solo exhibition at Gasworks in London, United Kingdom, 2024

Anna Perach explores the dynamics between personal and cultural myths. Her work engages with historical narratives through the depiction of enigmatic female characters that dwell precariously at the threshold between states: inside and outside of their bodies. With diverse references including fairy tales and psychoanalytic theory, and using archaic textile processes such as tufting, she transforms female archetypes into sculptural hybrids that explore ideas of identity, gender, and craft.

Holes is inspired by instances where female bodies have been viewed by a religious or scientific patriarchal authority as something that transgresses the rules of morality and nature. These instances include witch trials from the renaissance period, 17th Century anatomical Venus sculptures designed for disassembly and exploration of the feminine interior; and the work of 19th century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot who treated women diagnosed with hysteria.

The exhibition begins with Gateway, hand-tufted gallery doors, where figures from myths, art history and daydreams clamber for space. Faces from Tamara de Lempicka’s sensual portraits gaze in cool deference, whilst other depictions howl in agony. Mouths and tongues abundant, this is a portal to Perach’s world, where non-conforming and subjugated bodies reign supreme. Inside, encounter Venus, an engorged female body reclining on an operating table. Alluring yet monstrous, her mouth gapes open, limbs flop and snake-like hair coils down onto the floor. She is a shell, an empty vessel, a skin waiting to be animated by another. Watching over her, on a canvas stretched across the width of the gallery are three females in states of agitation. Women from outside references works by Hans Baldung and Albrecht Dürer, along with Macbeth’s witch agents. Moving between the geometric and the formless, they are harbingers of a transformed world.

Elsewhere, a bespoke chandelier hangs, casting a warm glow. Mixing divergent materials of steel, glass, and textile, Extraction appears somewhere between capture and release, its long tendrils reaching around the bodies it encompasses. The work is the cranium of a deconstructed body; a torso, womb, arms, and legs rendered as a wooden sculpture alongside.

Ecstasies, a performance devised in tandem with the exhibition, and performed on the opening and at times throughout the exhibition, further animates the show’s ideas. It tells the story of a witches sabbath, where in the dark of night, women and girls’ bodies are reborn and reignited. Transcending their assumed characteristics and no longer bound by societal rules, their bodies unite as one, their ecstatic and frenzied movements building to a climax.

Text by Rosa Thyhurst, courtesy of Gasworks.

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