Brilliantly disturbing

Sally Marlow visits a Kate Cooper exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

This is a really disturbing exhibition on many levels. It features three screens, each with the same CGI young woman, whose face for much of the films is flawless. In one she struggles to shed a transparent fat suit which encases her body, inflating and deflating, at times giving her the torso of a male body builder, at times a layer of fat, and at times simply an extra layer of baggy, saggy skin. Her face becomes bruised, and as the video plays on a loop, there is no escape from her agitation and powerlessness against the morphing shape of her body. To say it struck a chord is something of an understatement.

Onto the next film, where the same flawless woman sleeps, wakes, is surrounded by symbols of housework, pleads with some unseen figure, and bleeds from her face. Decaying hands float in the background. This film found its mark with me too. In the final film the woman is wearing flesh coloured sports kit, and battling to keep pace on a conveyor belt, but she is crawling not running – this is not a gym machine, but a belt you would find in a factory or delivering luggage. Exhausted, she slips back, starts crawling again. The cycle repeats and repeats. It’s hopeless, seeming destined to be her fate, but then suddenly she is in a garden, and her face turns to beautiful, perfect flowers – but is it her face?

The use of CGI added another layer to what felt like a deeply feminist exploration about women’s struggles for bodily perfection, and their gendered roles, suggesting these are more than objectified: they are stylised and created. Arguably in real life this is how it is, and women and men continue to buy into that. I left feeling destabilised, uncomfortable and agitated, and not a little depressed. It was brilliant.

- Reviewed by Sally Marlow, Associate Editor for Culture

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