Exhibitions / Vis Art / 02 September - 30 October 2021

Emma Wolf-Haugh: DOMESTIC OPTIMISM

Tickets: Free admission

Domestic Optimism
Act One: Modernism–A Lesbian Love Story & Act Two: Radclyffe Hall–The Lazerbeam Theirstory Projects

2 September–30 October 2021

 

Visual artist and educator Emma Wolf-Haugh works across disciplines, weaving together installation, performance, publishing, and collaborative workshop techniques. Interested in re-orienting attention in relation to cultural narratives, Wolf-Haugh develops work from a working-class-queer-feminist questioning of ‘what is missing?’, and considers the construction of legacy, and what is and isn’t given historical attention.
Both ‘acts’ of the exhibition project Domestic Optimism have developed out of long-term research, beginning with the work and continually expanding legacy of the Anglo-Irish, self-taught, modernist architect and designer, Eileen Gray. Engaging in methods that     complicate the normatively male modernist canon and the experimental forms associated with modernism, Wolf-Haugh underscores the importance of solidarity, friendship, and the transformative possibility of collective work in the development of new forms of social and spatial cohesion.

Wolf-Haugh proposes a de-colonial, queer-working-class reading of architecture, furniture, and modernist aesthetics, with a specific focus on the often sidelined and/or ignored queerness inherent in Gray’s life and work. This exploration is preoccupied with collective space-making, and the overshadowed histories of diverse working-class communities and activism in the Ballymun social housing project in 1960s Dublin. They employ anecdote as a form of illegitimate knowledge, sharing and incorporating speculative fabulation and slash fiction as research tools for erotically conflating historical reference with the lived present.

Colonial aesthetics, obscenity trials, masculine hysteria, crime scene photography, sexology, the production and obfuscation of the lesbian throughout modernity, the contemporary collapse of post-war social housing projects – all intersect in Domestic Optimism.

Act One: Modernism–A Lesbian Love Story explores the lesbian flâneur as an avatar figure that liberates the domesticated body into the mutable space of the city. In the central video performance, Wolf-Haugh choreographs queer tactics and political imaginaries through Eileen Gray’s extended early 20th century Parisian peer group of dykey women makers. Employing queer strategies, this promotes an understanding of the critical shifts around femininity, behaviors revolving around power, the unhinging of gender from biological sex, and the parameters of sexual transgression, desire and identity across interactions of political, social, legal, and aesthetic realms.
The newly commissioned works include tailored screens, pop-up furniture, photo-walls (produced in collaboration with the artists Kerstin Honeit and Line Skywalker Karlström), zines and video works. With their warped aesthetics of museum display, the collective works underline the unmaking of normatively structured representation.

Act Two: Radclyffe Hall–The Lazerbeam Theirstory Projects drifts in and out of dialogue with Act One. Meeting in a place of queer working class disruption, modernist historical narratives are reformulated towards spaces of critical awareness and potential. The new work enters into speculative exchange with the often misrepresented history of Ballymun, a post-war style high rise social housing estate built on Dublin’s northside in the 1960s. Developed in response to slum housing conditions in inner city Dublin at the time, Ballymun echoed the hopes of similar projects across Europe and the USA. The estate was the first and last of its kind in Ireland, and was largely demolished in the 2000s, against the wishes of many in the community.
Fashioned after Le Corbusier’s ‘Radiant City’, and in consultancy with the English Imperial Town Planner Sir William Henry Holford, Ballymun’s legacy is drenched in high hopes, bad press, shitty management, and shoddy infrastructure. In the face of structural and narrative inequality, Ballymun’s community organising was epic, utopian in its scope and almost completely written out from the popular mythologising of the place as a working-class ghetto.

This new addition to the exhibition, produced for the exhibition at Project Arts Centre, delves into the Ballymun Community Archives and develops a speculative fiction that imagines a surviving tower block, squatted by working-class queers. Radclyffe Hall–The Lazerbeam Theirstory Projects is a utopian proposal for an architecture commonly read as better off gone.

As Paul B Preciado writes: ‘It is necessary to leave room for utopia regardless of whether it ever arrives.’ This work manifests as a zine available to take away from the exhibition, and a series of collages that overlay drawings of the tower blocks with archive materials from the 1928 obscenity trials of lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall, and historical documents relating to the Ballymun estate. The mash up of these modernist legacies raises a complexity of questions about housing, class, identity, colonial history, and the disappearance of community narratives that could feed radical imaginaries for the large numbers of people who occupy the so called ‘margins’.

Domestic Optimism is the third part of a trilogy that includes The Re-appropriation of Sensuality (re-designing the sex club for female identified bodies) and Sex in Public (marking and performing cruising sites for queer womxn).

Domestic Optimism. Act One: Modernism–A Lesbian Love Story was presented at Grazer Kunstverein in autumn 2020. Part of the project was exhibited in the group exhibition ‘Seized by the Left Hand’ (curated by Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese) at Dundee Contemporary Arts in December 2019. Domestic Optimism. Sapphic Modernity and the Sexual Dissidence of Domestic Design, a special studio visit and conversation between Emma Wolf-Haugh and curator and writer Rike Frank took place at IMMA organised by Project Arts Centre.

 

Credits

Curatorial support: Lívia Páldi
Exhibition poster design: Peter Maybury
Zine holders: Tanad Williams
Copy editing: Kate Heffernan

Special thanks to Renèe Helèna Browne, Sarah Browne, Eoin Dara, Rike Frank, Amelia Groom, Louis Haugh, Michele Horrigan, Suza Husse, Sean Lynch, Kim McAleese, Dennis McNulty, Christina Simmerer, Kerstin Honeit, Line Skywalker Karlström, Kate Strain, and Tanad Williams.

Biographies

Emma Wolf-Haugh (born 1974) is a visual artist and educator based in Berlin and Dublin. They are co-founder of the artist collective The Many Headed Hydra together with Suza Husse. They have been artist in residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (July 2019–March 2020) followed by a residency at Askeaton Contemporary Arts (until August 2020).

Current and recent projects include: Domestic Optimism, rehearsed reading and conversation with Amelia Groom, ICI, Berlin, 2020; Reading Troupe #14: Domestic Decadence, remote bedroom erotica workshop, Market Gallery, Glasgow, 2020; Survival Kit, Riga, 2020; Seized by the Left Hand (curated by Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese), Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2019; Is it Possible to Exist Outside of Language (curated by Aziz Sohail), Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi, Pakistan; I SLIPPED INTO MY FIRST METAMORPHOSIS SO QUIETLY THAT NO ONE NOTICED (curated by Gitte Villesen), Den Frie Center Of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen, 2019; Colomboscope interdisciplinary arts festival (curated by Natasha Ginwala), with The Many Headed Hydra, Sri Lanka, 2019.

Forthcoming is the project publication: a language where yesterday and tomorrow are the same word. Kal. with curator, writer and researcher Aziz Sohail and The Many Headed Hydra at District Berlin, in collaboration with Archive Books, as well as art spaces and feminist initiatives in Colombo and Karachi.

Funding

Domestic Optimism. Act One: Modernism – A Lesbian Love Story was co-produced with Grazer Kunstverein and kindly supported by Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland. The artist also wishes to acknowledge the institutional support of Askeaton Contemporary Arts, Market Gallery, ICI Berlin, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dundee Contemporary Arts, the Arts Council of Ireland, and Fingal County Council for continuing to make studio practice and project development possible.

Project Arts Centre is proud to be supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council.

Act Two: Radclyffe Hall – The Lazerbeam Theirstory Projects is produced by Project Arts Centre.

 

Project Arts Centre is supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council.

 

Special thanks to Renèe Helèna Browne, Sarah Browne, Eoin Dara, Rike Frank, Amelia Groom, Louis Haugh, Michele Horrigan, Suza Husse, Sean Lynch, Kim McAleese, Dennis McNulty, Christina Simmerer, Kerstin Honeit, Line Skywalker Karlström, Kate Strain, and Tanad Williams.

 

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