Superior Goods and Household Gods, review (2015): Products of seduction

Polly Checkland Harding
Wall hanging with a woman part submerged

Castlefield Gallery’s latest exhibition comes with an adult content warning – so does it make voyeurs of its audience? We find out.

After erotic promises of controversial, curtained material, Superior Goods and Household Gods feels a little sterilised – which, it seems, is the point. Expectations from references to pages from gentlemen’s magazines and “loosely-censored” pornography turn out to be more steamy than the reality of retro, small-scale installations that sit in a fairly empty gallery, just as the jaunty shapes that obscure the really naughty bits in Suzanne Posthumus’ erotica collage Butter Wouldn’t Melt are where the imagination really gets going. It becomes clear that this exhibition is about frustrated desire, rather than gratification.

The idea of voyeurism is where the intricacies of this exhibition work really well

Dutch artist Posthumus makes this point the most obviously: the (mostly) censored images she’s found flash by faster than it’s possible to appreciate, and the Shepard Tone soundtrack (a rising pitch that never seems to reach a peak) endlessly thwarts the climax. On opening night, Posthumus spoke of her surprise at the UK’s censorship of pornographic material, which she argued both blunted its purpose while “keeping the imagination working” in a more provocative way. Sarah Hardacre, co-curator of the exhibition, also works with censorship, this time using the “honest body shapes” of old-fashioned erotica, but blanking out the faces so that they are unable to return the (traditionally male) gaze.

The idea of voyeurism, then, is where the intricacies of this exhibition work best. “Hopefully viewers will come and have time to think about how these things relate,” said co-curator Matthew Pendergast of the sparseness of what’s on show – and certainly the minimalist layout, while not achieving the kind of convincing draw that previous exhibitions here have had, allows for nuanced reflection. Sometimes quite literally: in Hannah Farrell’s site-specific installation, Palm Springs, the use of mirrors turns the viewer from onlooker to subject. Ultimately, an exhibition more showily lewd or grander in scale might have seduced its audience into guilty objectification – this one doesn’t.

Superior Goods and Household Gods at Castlefield Gallery is part of Wonder Women 2015.

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