Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows
A documentary by Richard Kovitch. Streaming online at the Cinematheque until Sunday (October 25)
The lead up to All Hallow’s Eve is an appropriate time for Penny Slinger: Exorcisms at the Cinematheque in Vancouver, an online series of films about a pioneering British artist and feminist from the London art scene.
Her unsettling and challenging surreal colleges, films, and theatre pieces from the ‘70s often employ the same language as gothic horror: dark and abandoned houses, haunting figures, unexpected violence, occult and religious symbols, dismembered bodies, sexual torment, death, and the inexplicable.
However, Slinger’s work from the height of her fame can also be described as haunting and anguished, disturbing and fascinating—a reconfiguration and combination of the attraction of pornography and the repulsion of shocking content, deeply fusing sexual grotesquerie with psychological plumbing.
The Other Side of the Underneath, a controversial feature she made with a radical feminist collective, and experimental films she made with Welsh filmmaker Jane Arden are among the selections in the film series. Slinger explains what went on behind the scenes in the documentary Out of the Shadows, in which her narration and discussion of her life and art career is interspersed with commentary from art world figures, clips from her films, and an overview of her artwork.
It’s clear from the outset that she was destined to be an agitator, from her descriptions of herself as a precociously boundary-breaking child that continued into adulthood. In fact, her instinct to venture into forbidden areas became her life’s mission, as she took on collage (considered an outdated medium reserved for men) and sought to usurp artistic gender traditions by becoming both the artist and her own muse. But the film reveals that her fierce psychological forays eventually led her into areas that went beyond her capabilities to handle and she, too, found limits.
While the film focuses on the period of time leading up to her seminal works—the books 50% Visible Woman (1971) and An Exorcism (1977)—her life afterward (she relocated to Jamaica, then California) is touched upon but glossed over, without an examination of how her work has evolved since then. The emphasis on the dark intensity of her work is further reinforced by the eerie soundtrack by the Psychological Strategy Board. Accordingly, it’s not a complete picture of the artist but provides a strong foundation for further considerations of her significance in the world of visual art.
Slinger will participate in a free livestream conservation, moderated by UBC art history professor Jaleh Mansoor, at 2 p.m. on Saturday (October 24).