Holly Slingsby creates performances that re-invent religious and mythical traditions. Slingsby uses her body like a shop dummy, pulling from bags or chests a series of props and improvised garments. These tropes, costumes, objects – often rudimentary and lo-fi – question our familiarity with a received symbolic lexicon. In Too Many Marys for instance, she put on more and more Virgin Mary costumes so that she became a ludicrously layered, walking embodiment of the accretions of time and history.
“I am fascinated by the ways in which images overlap, how a particular symbol is adopted and adapted as it passes from ancient pagan mythology to devout religion to modern secularism. Classical figures are subsumed into contemporary consumerism – Venus razors, Nike trainers, Mars Bars. My recent work cannibalises and regurgitates visions of the divine.“
For Behind the Curtain, Slingsby makes the project space a cross between a performance and an installation. Tintype’s large window is a frame housing temporary tableaux vivant as a counterpoint to the activity within. Three performers construct sets, costumes and props together so the gallery becomes a studio and a stage – a laboratory for researching and inventing rites – into which visitors can walk around, participate or simply watch.
The phrase ‘behind the curtain’ hints at both the backstage of a theatre and the sanctuary of a temple. Slingsby combines mythological and Christian imagery by drawing on sources such as the Book of Exodus – the passages that give instructions for making the temple curtain and robes – and 16C triumphal processions with their profusion of decorative and theatrical imagery.