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Riflemaker opens first public exhibition of the work of feminist artist Penelope Slinger in forty years
Reverting. Photographic collage on card, 50 x 35 cm, 1977© Riflemaker and Penelope Slinger.

LONDON.- The art and the life of Penelope Slinger (b.1947 London) are inextricably interwoven. Hear What I Say is the second of three exhibitions focussing on the artist’s early output: photographic collages, objects and sculptural works from the 1970s.

In 2009, her collages were exhibited at Tate St Ives as part of The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in Modern Art, and in Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists & Surrealism, Manchester Art Gallery.

In these pieces, Slinger uses Surrealism to penetrate the female psyche, presenting herself as both subject and object in a group of collages and montages which sidestep the topical themes of 1960s and 70s art. Exhibited in London in 1977, the work’s explicit depiction of feminine power and an anarchic approach to life challenged and outraged many of her peers, as well as the critics. The artist left Britain in 1979, never to return. This is her first public exhibition in almost forty years.

Initially published in book form under the title An Exorcism, the photo-collage series, seven years in the making, was created in the tradition of the classical ‘photo-romance’, taking its cue from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonte and La Femme 100 Têtes. In these works the artist explores the ultimate romance - the death and rebirth of self. The action takes place in a deserted country mansion, the empty rooms of which represent the many chambers of a woman’s being. Each image is a meditation on a particular state of consciousness. It represents a place where the lines between the world of dream and reality are undefined, as the subconscious is opened to the light of conscious scrutiny.

The series follows on from Slinger’s first photo-book 50% The Visible Woman (1971) and the showing of her 3D works at the ICA's Young and Fantastic exhibition in 1969, when the artist was aged twenty-one. The final collection of the period, Mountain Ecstasy (1978), achieved a unique combination of the erotic and the mystical.

The narrative has a ‘mise-en-scène’ which can be attributed to the artist’s work with the all-women theatre troupe Holocaust (1971) and her appearance in and art direction of the feature film The Other Side of the Underneath (d. Jane Arden: now re-issued in a special edition by the BFI). In that year she also worked on the production and design for Picasso’s play The Four Little Girls at the Open Space Theatre, London, at the same time developing an interest in Tantric Art, which would guide her artistic and spiritual direction throughout the 1980s. She was named Woman of the Year in New York 1982, other recipients of the award being film director and union organiser Ellen Burstyn and US Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

Slinger describes her output as a “map of the journey of the Self”. Surrealism allowed her to delve into the subconscious and emerge with archetypal glyphs. The next logical step for the artist was to include Tantric and Visionary influences which brought a further dimension to her artistic journey. Since then she has woven her own mode of Surrealism together with a radical approach to spiritual energy, forming a bridge from the subconscious to the superconscious, the realm of unlimited potential.

Her many works include The Secret Dakini Oracle (1978), her illustrations for Sexual Secrets: the Alchemy of Ecstasy (1979 & 2000), The Secret Dakini Oracle (1979) & The Path of the Mystic Lover (1993).

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