Nestled amongst the hum and bustle of Islington’s Essex road, a banner is defiantly pitched up in the window of Tintype gallery, blaring the words sourced from the article that has fuelled Alice May Williams’s new poignant solo exhibition. And Now…Grants for Irish Lesbians, looks back in time to a political story now swept under the carpet of Essex Road, uprooting social issues on sexuality, nationality and class, returning to the present with the artists own personal response to the area.
London-based artist Alice May Williams uses a variety of mediums in her creative process. Graduating with an MFA from Goldsmiths in 2014, her work has gone on to explore particular themes of time and place through personal and public avenues, interlinking the past, present and future, recognising the cyclical nature of events. Her residency at Speke Hall in Liverpool in 2016 resulted in the exhibition Speke of the Future, exploring the hall’s Arts and Crafts heritage and using its past to playfully imagine potential alternative futures of the building. She then went on to win the Jerwood/FVU Award in 2016 on the theme of ‘Borrowed Time’. Through this she produced a film Dream City – More, Better, Sooner using Battersea Power Station as her subject, exploring the changing relationships the building has endured over the years with its surroundings.
Her current exhibition at Tintype includes six small mixed media paintings, a canvas banner, a large scale painted text work and a film On The 73 (made a year previously for Tintype’s Essex Road program). Through these different pieces we look back to the eighties as a time of social progression, a time that mustered a utopian vision for social values and minority groups, especially for gay rights. London and Essex Road in particular being a stomping ground for the gay and lesbian community.
By delving into the local area’s past, Williams came across an article in the Evening Standard from 1985 that quotes the opposition felt by an SDP member on the funding given by the local government to Irish Lesbians. Irish lesbians were a particularly disadvantaged minority and estranged from their country because of their sexual orientation. This funding enabled them to form a community centre, allowing them to reclaim their Irish nationalities.
Williams closely focuses on this story and the liberal spirits of the past to reassess the social values of the present. Her text piece that spreads over a whole wall acts as a counterpart or manifesto to the banner in the window. It is a handwritten poem of 19 verses long, hauntingly repeats the phrase ‘And Now’ throughout, calling the viewer to question the present:
‘And now! And Now!
And then, Just then,
Marriage equality, the 2010s
We won our rights
And lost our lefts
Where’s our women’s centre, commune, festival of strength?
What’s left? What’s left? Of the loony left?
What is Islington now, that was here was then?
We dream of grants for lesbians’.
Text and voice are a fundamental part of the artist’s recent work, found in the poem as well as both films On the 73 and Dream City-More, Better, Sooner. Through this voice the artist conjures up a sense of rhythm that slows or speeds the reader/listener, further adding to her exploration with time.
Coincidentally the exhibition opened a week after the general election when the spotlight on the social values of the DUP give it an even more topical impact.
Adopting a dynamic informal approach, Williams loosely connects ideas found through her archival research as well as through her own personal interests forming ideas of alternative futures, in the knowledge that times are constantly revolving bringing new ideas and opportunities.
And Now…Grants for Irish Lesbians continues at Tintype gallery till 15 July 2017. In 2018 Williams will be showing a new film commission at Knole House in Kent, as part of the A Woman’s Place Project.