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Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies review

Art Wellcome Collection , Euston Until Sunday January 26 2020
3 out of 5 stars
Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies review
Jo Spence 'A Picture of Health: Property of Jo Spence?' (1982) Collaboration with Terry Dennett © The Estate of the Artist. Image courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery, London

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Walking into ‘Misbehaving Bodies’, the Wellcome Collection’s free exhibition of artworks by Jo Spence (1934-1992) and Oreet Ashery (b. 1966), you first notice two giant, bright pink teddy bears with extra-long arms. The terror-inducing teds sit on the floor under draping canopies of the same intestinal colour. In the same space, television screens show Ashery’s 12-part film series ‘Revisiting Genesis’.

If you ever vomited up watermelon Bacardi Breezer aged 14, you’ll be perfectly able to picture the shade and patterning of these separate video-viewing suites. This is a gross pink; a bodily, wounded pink. Crucially, it’s not the pink we’re used to relating to chronic illness and, specifically, breast cancer.

And that’s perfect, because neither of the artists deal with death or illness the way we’re ‘meant’ to. Spence is represented here by her seminal photography series chronicling her breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and subsequent death. Ashery’s film series is based around a never-seen fictional character called ‘Genesis’ who is dying.

Both hit on the absurdity of death. In Ashery’s films there’s a part where the dying owner of a biscuit factory commissions a slideshow of their lifetime achievements in biscuit form, custard creams offsetting the doom of impending demise. Spence also identified the ironies of her situation, for example contrasting images of her post-op breasts with soft-porn titty pics.

But trying to watch all the parts of Ashery’s film or read the laminated text-heavy sheets showing Spence’s images is tricky to do properly in the gallery setting. In both instances, it’s questionable whether an exhibition is the best setting for them.

But even if the show isn’t perfect, it’s absolutely what the Wellcome Collection should be spending its money on. When compared to the sterile, bleached world of medicine – and the sugary pink of cancer charities and ‘women’s health’ – this strange, messy, flawed, incomplete, artistic, female take on sickness is more than welcome.

By: Rosemary Waugh


Venue name: Wellcome Collection
Venue website:
Venue phone: 020 7611 2222
Address: 183 Euston Rd
Transport: Tube: Euston Rail: Euston
Price: Free
Opening hours: Galleries: Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat 10am-6pm; Thur 10am-8pm; Sun 11am-6pm Library: Mon-Wed, Fri 10am-6pm; Thur 10am-8pm; Sat 10am-4pm

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