Olivia Plender

Olivia Plender, <i>Hold Hold Fire</i>, 2019. Video still. Courtesy of the artist
Olivia Plender, Hold Hold Fire, 2019. Video still. Courtesy of the artist
Olivia Plender, <i>Hold Hold Fire</i>, 2019. Video still. Courtesy of the artist
Olivia Plender, Hold Hold Fire, 2019. Video still. Courtesy of the artist

Olivia Plender's (1977, London, UK) work is based on historical research that analyzes pedagogical methods and revolutionary, social, political, and religious movements mainly of the 19th and 20th centuries. Plender finds her resources in institutional archives, as well as in literature and anonymous and popular narratives, using them to make installations, videos, and comics that address the present, intending to unmask and understand current hierarchical structures and social conventions. The artist is not only interested in the historical facts themselves, but also in the way history circulates and is told as myths, fables, or hearsay. In recent years, her focus has been on investigating situations, processes, and narratives that arise from movements organized by social minorities, particularly with feminist and socialist associations. Though she has a particular fascination for past events, Plender is interested in experiencing these ideas in the present, comparing forms of social participation, and ultimately seeking new alternatives for collectivity and public intervention that transcend neoliberalist foundations.

While researching at a feminist archive in London, Plender came across a script for the play Liberty or Death by Sylvia Pankhurst (c. 1913), a leader of the women's suffrage movement and a founder of the United Kingdom Communist Party. There was no record in the documentation found of any publication or staging of the play, which is inspired by the East London Federation of the Suffragettes' fight to improve living and working conditions for women. In the video Hold Hold Fire (2020) and in a series of pencil drawings, Olivia Plender uses Pankhurst's play as a starting point to discuss the present day in relation to domestic violence, the pay gap, and the housing crisis, from the perspective of women in the UK. The artist held a series of meetings in community centers with groups of female activists and, together with a theater director, reworked scenes and dialogue from Pankhurst's play to make them topical, with references to recent British politics, particularly the austerity policy in place since 2010 and the racist and hostile environment adopted by the immigration department. In Hold Hold Fire, Plender films one such workshop, in which a group of women is being given lessons on self-defense. The pencil drawings, also included in the exhibition, are based on images of suffragettes being arrested by the police. In each image, the viewer sees an individual woman in the act of being arrested, by male police officers. The repetition in the images of the act of being arrested, is meant to emphasize the ongoing nature of political struggle. In the images, the women express their individuality, whereas the police officers look the same and perform the same actions as those who violently break up protests today.



Support: British Council and Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee's International Programme for Visual and Applied Artists

  1. Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
  2. Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
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