Blum & Poe is pleased to present Los Angeles-based artist Penny Slinger’s third solo exhibition with the gallery. This presentation coincides with the fifty-year anniversary of Slinger’s iconic 1971 artists’ book and collage series 50% The Visible Woman and celebrates the milestone with a new and expanded edition of the publication. With never before exhibited selections from this historical body of work, alongside new compositions, Slinger shares her long-standing investigation into the mapping and unveiling of the feminine subconscious.
Originally created in 1969 as a hand-constructed snakeskin-bound book for her thesis project at the Chelsea College of Art, 50% The Visible Woman was Slinger’s response to her discovery of surrealism and its pivotal impact on her practice. An homage to Max Ernst, the book includes photocollage and concrete poetry, artwork with which Slinger sought to rectify the fraught portrayals of women and the void of feminine authorship in a male-dominated surrealist milieu. She says: "Having discovered the magic of surrealism, I wanted to employ its tools and methods to create a language for the feminine psyche to express itself.” The book’s binding alternates between sheets of poetry and photocollage imagery; her poems are typed onto semi-transparent tissue paper, allowing the prose to interact directly with their visual counterparts beneath. Words take on curvilinear shapes in response to the images surfacing below them.
One work on view from this series, never before exhibited—The Dialectics (1969)—is a totem of female body parts, floating, dismembered. Some parts appear as didactic diagrams, and others are plucked from an image of a woman in mime costume, shadows reaching in every direction. The corresponding poetry reads:
The dialectics of experience
present a new hierarchy
evoked in the shadows
a presence using emblems
like a clown
A collage exploits itself
A corner seeking identity
in its absence of form
Slinger appropriates surrealism’s language and themes—woman's body as object, dream-state as entrance into the unconscious, and sexual and bodily desires—and applies them in analysis of surrealism itself and its culture. Slinger inserts herself into this art historical lineage, and takes ownership of a visual lexicon that had previously objectified her. On the occasion of this special anniversary exhibition, Slinger collaborates with musician Lydia Lunch on sonic accompaniment to her collages.
Alongside these historical and formative works, Slinger presents a new photo collage series titled My Body in a Box. Created during the pandemic while sheltering in place, the artist explores the psychological entrapment and fears that accompany the experience. As Slinger has done since the 1960s, here she uses her own image and body as subject to process a range of feelings and reactions, photographed by her creative partner Dhiren Dasu. Accompanied by her poetry and prose that are evocative of states of mind and being, Slinger’s offering is one of pain and poignancy, as well as transcendence.
The 2021 edition of Slinger’s artists’ book 50% The Visible Woman presents the artist’s series of photomontage works and poetry unabridged for the first time, following the hand-constructed version from 1969, and the out-of-print abridged edition from 1971 released by indie press Narcis Publishing Limited. Lauded at the time for its originality and poetic narrative, Rolling Stone Magazine remarked in the November 1973 issue: “This book will become as important on your bookshelf as Sgt. Pepper is on your record rack.” The 2021 edition also features a new conversation transcribed between Slinger and fellow artist and friend Linder. Linder says: “When I first saw that copy of 50% The Visible Woman—which a friend of a friend had actually stolen from a library—I was mesmerized. I’d never seen a book like that before. I used to spend hours looking at it, turning the pages over and over again, trying to work out its magic. I sensed that something really profound was happening, and I couldn’t quite work out how that magic worked.” Available for pre-order now.
Penny Slinger has authored and illustrated numerous publications and has exhibited her work internationally. Recent institutional group exhibitions include The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and the Cosmic Tree, Camden Art Centre, London, UK (2020); Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution, British Museum, London, UK (2020); Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland (2019); Visible Women, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich, UK (2018); Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings, Tate St Ives, Cornwall, UK (2018); The House of Fame, convened by Linder, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2018); The Beguiling Siren Is Thy Crest, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland (2017); Women House, Monnaie de Paris, France; traveled to National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2017); History Is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain, Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2015); Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany (2015); Lips Painted Red, Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Trondheim, Norway (2013); The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art, Tate St Ives, Cornwall, UK (2009); and Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, UK (2009); among many more.
Penny Slinger: 50% The Visible Woman