The Neanderthal, the Woman on the Edge of Time, the Vampyre, the Medieval Mystic, Siren and Phantasmagoregasm – these are just some of the all-female cast that weave throughout Tai Shani’s violent, erotic and fantastical four-year long project, Dark Continent. The culmination of which – Semiramis – is due to open this July at The Tetley in Leeds, fresh from Glasgow International Festival 2018 where it met with wide acclaim.
Featuring an immersive installation that will fill the iconic former brewery’s impressive atrium, alongside offshoots of documentary film, text, virtual reality and an original score (made in collaboration between the artist and experimental pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma), Semiramis represents Shani’s first major gallery exhibition. The expansive project consists of a heady mix of science fiction, anthropology, and feminist and queer theory. The twelve characters reference women from throughout history and imagined futures – undermining patriarchal conceptions of narrative history and offering an alternative vision for a more equal tomorrow.
Semiramis could perhaps be read as a 21st century, three-dimensional reinvention of the late medieval proto-feminist text, The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) by Christine de Pizan, upon which it is based. This remarkable work was written by the Italian authoress as a rebuttal to the 13th century French poet Jean de Meun’s highly-problematic portrayal of women, and features characters from fiction and history who live side by side within the allegorical city she creates; collectively making an early case for gender equality. Over the course of the animated prose, readers are introduced to celebrated female Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian warriors, governors and scholars, and are presented with a series of seismic ‘revelations’, such as that the originator of the Latin alphabet the inventor of farming were both women.
Despite this fascinating historical-literary background however, ultimately Semiramis is likely to offer visitors a very powerful, multi-layered experience – privileging sensation over reason, and overflowing with an enigmatic sense of wonder, energy and exuberance. Expect to come away feeling a little disorientated perhaps but charged.
Semiramis will also include a selection of work by the Polish-born artist Ariela Widzer chosen by Shani, whose early paintings are deeply emblematic of the psychedelic and pop aesthetics that defined the late 1960s and 1970s counterculture.