This is Geyer’s first show with the gallery, and will coincide with a second exhibition of Geyer’s work opening at the Hales Project Room in New York later in 2018.
Geyer’s critically-oriented work ranges across media, incorporating text, photography, painting, sculpture, video and performance. It explores the complex politics of time, in the context of specific social and political situations, cultural institutions and historical events. From her early investigations into urban environments and notions of citizenship to more recent research into women’s contributions to modernism, Geyer’s work continuously seeks to create spaces of critical, collective reflection on the construction of histories and ideas that are otherwise marginalised or obscured.
The focus of this exhibition is a core strand of Geyer’s practice, which originated during the artist’s 2012–13 research fellowship at the Museum of Modern Art New York, consisting of an ongoing investigation into women who have actively shaped today’s cultural landscape and contemporary museums. During this research, Geyer began uncovering a vast network of woman-identified philanthropists, collectors, museum directors, artists, poets, political and social visionaries, and activists. Following their traces revealed collaborative activity across boundaries of class and race, at the intersection of culture and politics, without which it became clear the significant shifts of Modernism would never have occurred: an early history that has been rendered largely invisible by a predominantly white patriarchy that have imagined the mainstream of American Modernism. Delving into the personal and political activities of these forgotten figures across different contexts, Geyer has until now undertaken significant performance and exhibition commissions for institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where she focused on the organisation’s visionary founders Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force (resulting in Geyer’s performance Time Tenderness, the footage of which is featured in the exhibition at Hales London), and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where she explored the legacy of the museum’s founding director Grace McCann Morley.
A new series of photographic collages titled Constellations (2017), which are presented in this exhibition for the first time, form Geyer’s most recent contribution to this continuously relevant project. Here, reimagined portraits depict some of the influential women who held salons – informal social gatherings that brought individuals of diverse social classes together to exchange ideas, strategies and resources – in the US, Europe and beyond, significantly impacting the culture and politics of their time. To reflect on the refraction of their stories, actions, and significance away from mainstream historic accounts and collective memories, the inspiration for these drawings came from a study of Joseph Albert's "Structural Constellations”, executed in 1950s and embodying his experiments with visual ambiguity: Geyer’s Constellationsseries map the recognizable pattern of presence and absence of these women reintroducing ways of looking that allow their recognition today.
Also presented in If I Told Her are two recent works that create a space sculpturally invoking the marginalised histories of lesbian and feminist communities from the mid 1950s to the 1970s. Responding to deep-seated repression and harassment, in 1955 the first lesbian civil rights organisation, Daughters of Bilitis, was formed in San Francisco, soon joined by a growing network of activist organisations and new publications with a range of strategies and perspectives that came together to conceive new communities for lesbians and their allies. In recognition of these pioneering organisations, Geyer created Collective Weave (2017): a sequence of 10 fabrics imaginatively incorporating logos and drawings from early feminist and lesbian magazines and flyers. In their folded form presented on individual hangers, these fabrics offer a potential to be activated as a history that was the backdrop to many lives.
Similarly, in the sequence of ladder-shaped sculptures If I Told Her (2017), Geyer takes inspiration from the Daughters of Bilitis’s monthly magazine The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the US. Adorned with fringes of hair as a way of invoking the human body and its physical presence, Geyer’s constructions give three-dimensional contemporary form to the illustration on the cover of The Ladder’s initial 1956 issue, which depicts two figures gazing up at a runged ladder reaching into the clouds. They also, inevitably, invoke the symbolic notion of a tool through which otherwise inaccessible spaces, simultaneously present and absent, can be reached.
Together, the works in If I Told Her provide a creative study of and response to the rich stories – the life, work, and legacy – of the cultural pioneers whose voices have been silenced by history. In Geyer’s words: ‘My work aims to locate those silences in people and places to work in and against them … past the silencing machine. To offer new forms of listening, of moving. Here my stumbling is dance, my grunting is proclamation. And viewing is radically practiced affinity.’