Grand Union (Birmingham) and Humber Street Gallery (Hull) have co-commissioned ‘sister’ exhibitions of new work by Jamie Crewe comprising videos, sculptures and writing – Love & Solidarity in Birmingham, and Solidarity & Love in Hull. This new body of work takes inspiration from Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, using the ambiguous tensions it stirs to think about repulsive kinships: with places, cultures, histories, communities, and individuals. The book is a portrait of Stephen Gordon: a masculine lover of women, who wants to be a country gentleman like her father. The book thwarts her desires, and has been an influence on many Anglophone queer and lesbian women, regarded both as a stirring representation and a regrettable antique. It has also been interpreted in the field of transgender studies, with some critics arguing that Stephen might be better understood as a trans man.
Love & Solidarity at Grand Union centres on two new videos, both based around conflict and camaraderie, simultaneously looped in the gallery. “The Ideal Bar” – “Le Narcisse” – “Alec’s” is a dramatised exchange between two non-binary people in a Glasgow nightclub, inspired by an exchange in the novel in which Stephen encounters a repulsive reflection of herself in a Parisian gay bar. “Morton” – “Beedles” – “An Abyss” is a video documentation of ‘Radclyffe Hall’, a concomitant group of artists and writers (in this case composed of Mason Leaver-Yap, Laura Guy, Kim McAleese, John Heffernan, Sean Elder, Jamie Crewe and their mother Nicky and sister Vicky) engaging in a traditional craft from their home county of Derbyshire, England. The video shows this group, over the course of two days in Birmingham’s Modern Clay ceramics studio, making a version of a well dressing.
Well dressings are decorative pallets of clay into which designs are formed with fresh flowers, seeds, and wool, then erected around the wells of Derbyshire villages and towns each summer. The video itself focuses on the group’s hands doing the detailed, demanding work of constructing these designs, which are not traditional: drawn from disparate sources, they touch on themes of heartbreak, LGBT solidarity, the legacy of The Well of Loneliness, and more. The audio reflects this, as conversation branches into discussions of going to — or refusing to go to — Pride celebrations, of past and present heartbreaks, of experiences of transphobia, and more. In this, there are small moments of friction and revelation, born from the combination of disparate people — and deep investments — working together under one name.
There is a printed text work, titled Womanhood, of which around 3,000 freely available copies will be made and displayed across the two venues. The cover design of this is based on the cover design of The Sink of Solitude (1928), an illustrated lampoon of The Well of Lonelinesswritten by Beresford Egan, P. R. Stephensen and ‘Several Hands’. While mostly addressing the pain of disenfranchisement, the text finds space for a kind of contrary hope; in response to the doomy conclusion of The Well of Loneliness — that love is not possible for people like us — the narrator will demand resistance to this logic; they will assert that love and solidarity are possible, and that the failure to embody them is an unforgivable disappointment.
As part of Grand Union’s extended programme we have co-commissioned a publication with new writing by Juliet Jaques, Nat Raha and Shola Von Reinhold. This will be distributed digitally.