Rose English

16 February 2017

York Art Gallery

Rose English (b.1950) is an interdisciplinary artist, who has been writing, directing and performing her own work for over 35 years. She has recently been the focus of a major solo show at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2014–15), an exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, London (2015–16), and a monograph published by Ridinghouse (2014).

English’s productions feature a diverse group of co-performers, including musicians, dancers, circus performers, magicians and horses, and often include elements from opera, circus and high society events.

Quadrille (1976) is a film of one of the artist’s earliest performance works, staged in the dressage arena of an equestrian event in Southampton. Six women appear, dressed as horses, wearing aprons that cover their upper bodies, leather harnesses, horse tails and hoof-shaped high heels. In an outdoor area marked off by ceramic horse figurines and watched eagerly by an unsuspecting audience, the women perform a dance based on dressage, their movements stilted by their cumbersome shoes. Full of beauty, humour, playfulness and criticism, the work highlights the fetishisation of women’s bodies and explores issues around gender roles, whereby dressage can be seen as a metaphor for power struggles and relationships.

This new acquisition strengthens and develops York Art Gallery’s growing collection of contemporary art relating to ‘flesh’ and the body. It is particularly significant as it is the first work to enter York’s collection in the field of performance and prefigures the work of artists such as Helen Chadwick, which is also in the Gallery’s collection. There is also an interesting relationship to the inherent performative elements of life modelling, represented in life studies by William Etty and a drawing by Berlinde de Bruyckere, and explored in collages by John Stezaker.

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2015

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