Kate Hawkins & Eloise Fornieles Performance/ Video 2007
It begins with an action as slight as a glance across a crowded gallery: one woman noticing another, sizing her up, the hair, the shoes, the dress... The same dress! A scowl, a deadly look is thrown, eyes are locked. Through the throng of the private view, the two women move, circling each other, the distance between them closing, the rhythm of the doppelgängers’ feet falling into a violent tattoo on the gallery floorboards. Wine is sipped; then it’s spat, a jungle red fluid staining the precious dresses, these accoutrements of status, which disintegrate under the bloody projectile. In the performances of Eloise Fornieles and Kate Hawkins, rules of etiquette are ritualistically played out, through aggressive repetition that reveals a repressed sexuality and underlying violence. As with the piece described above, Mal Gusto 1 (2007), the most ephemeral gesture, a greeting or an acknowledgement, is unpacked into a tense exposé of the cultural ironies surrounding human urges otherwise buried in social nicety. The artists met whilst studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, and began collaborating upongraduation in 2006, drawn together by complementary individual practices. Hawkins’s work taps social ritual, as in her video piece Eternal Peas (2006) where the artist painstakingly eats, one at a time,what appears to be a never-ending dish of peas, while her recent painting series Harpies and Queens (2007) – which rendered images of high society women culled from magazines as an expressionistic horrorshow – examines the construction of female beauty, and its use as both camouflage, and display of aggression and power. Similarly addressing notions of dysfunctional beauty and taboo, Fornieles performance and video work, like Sibling Rivalry (2006) with her brother Edward Fornieles, confronts the viewer with unorthodox sexuality, in this case incestuous. For their first collaboration Pleased To Meet You (2006), performed at Scope, New York, a social conceit peculiar to the environment – the artworld airkiss – is intensified into an unexpected eroticism. Like the many others browsing the art fair, the artists greet each other with the standard ‘mwah, mwah’. Instead of moving on however, their mime of kissing continues, becoming increasingly intimate, though their mouths never meet. Within the enclosure of this almost-embrace, the two women lay claim to their own space. Upon reaching an extreme point of sexual tension, their actions reverse, and they part as if nothing had happened. Through such works Baudelaire’s famous musings on the artist of modern life can be heard to chime: a man who is in the crowd but not of it, attentive to contemporary fashion, and all the ticks that make up his age. Fornieles and Hawkins are creating work that is situated quite literally within the throng, that of the artworld itself, in its contemporary manifestation as an intensely social and socially specific group. Yet while the heightened gestures of the performances are conceived as conduits of revelation, it is the crowd, the audience, whose unpredictable rejoinder completes the artwork. In London Mal Gusto triggered clapping and foot stomping from the gallery gathering, goading the artists in their vicious dance. Pleased To Meet You, on the other hand, provoked a range of extreme responses from macho leering and reactionary incredulity, to expressions of female solidarity. More social dialogue than social commentary, it is this relationship between the performers and the crowd that provides the ultimate frisson.