Me and Mine is Lucy Beech’s first major solo exhibition in the UK. Focused on the ways in which women construct and sustain communities, the work on show at the Harris Museum is developed out of Beech’s extended body of research around emotional labour and the agency of the individual in a group. The raw materials for these ‘re-enactments’ are fabricated from ‘field notes’; research collected through active engagement in workshops and networking events; contexts that demand group performance whilst blurring the boundaries between work and play.
Central to the exhibition is Me and Mine, Beech’s most ambitious film work to date (commissioned by Film and video Umbrella, 2015). Beech constructs an interpersonal drama that examines how the so-called feminine ‘virtues’ of empathy and relationality have gained increasing currency within previously patriarchal industries. Set between a traditional undertakers and an annual award ceremony, defined by one of its participants as the ‘nucleus of the funeral industry’s female revolution’, the film follows a female undertaker as she negotiates her way through the shifting landscape of the funeral business, as well as her experience as a woman among women. Ostensibly a study of the cultural and economic forces surrounding the business of death, Me and Mine is concerned with ideas of transition: between social groups, private and public worlds, tradition and innovation, the individual and the group. The film demonstrates how the rhetoric of community that underlies people’s periodic appeals to the universal virtues of human society and interpersonal relationships sits ambiguously with an increasingly assertive politics of the self.
Female relationships and group dynamics are further explored in Cannibals and the dual-screen work Buried Alive (both 2013). Built from research into multi-level marketing schemes, Cannibals focuses on an all-female support group ‘Women Empowering Women’ that adopted an ethos of self-change as a vehicle for a non-sustainable business model. This work traces how notions of female empowerment can operate as an authoritative branding tool, WEW emerges in Cannibals as a traditional pyramid scheme; a microcosm of a capitalist system, mirroring an image of unsustainable growth. The tiered structure is referred to through euphemisms such as ‘appetiser’, ‘main course’ and ‘dessert’. Before they eat, the women participate in ‘emotional circuit training’; the body is ‘tenderized’ in preparation for self-consumption. The fictional process deteriorates when one of the participants observes this pseudo-therapeutic process to be eating away at itself
Exploring friendship as a business model Buried Alive is a multiscreen work that documents a fictitious workshop in leadership. Playing with fictional ideas of ‘emotional entrepreneurship’ in which wellbeing is circulated as the principle commodity, the films follow a group of women learning to ‘capitalise’ on their own experiences in order to build their own homespun, therapeutic methodologies. The leader is creating a sales force who in turn trade on their personal charisma and contacts to move the therapeutic product amongst a network of friends, family and neighbours.
Project Credit: Me and Mine is commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella (FVU), with the support of Harris Museum & Art Gallery, The Tetley, The Fenton Trust, The Elephant Trust and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. With thanks to Open School East. FVU is supported by Arts Council England.
Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston is one of the leading museums in the North West and features contemporary art, fine art, decorative art and historic collections of national significance. Located in the heart of Preston in a stunning Grade 1 listed building, it hosts a wide range of exhibitions and events and is fast gaining a reputation for its innovative and ambitious contemporary arts programme. The Harris is a major tourist attraction, welcoming over 220,000 visitors per year.
Film and Video Umbrella (FVU) commissions, curates, produces and presents artists’ moving-image works that are staged in collaboration with galleries and other cultural partners. Since the late 1980s, FVU has been at the forefront of this vibrant and expanding area of practice, promoting innovation through its support of some of the most exciting figures on the contemporary scene. During this time, the organisation has commissioned and produced nearly 200 different artists’ projects, ranging from ambitious multi-screen installations to shorter film and video pieces, as well as numerous online commissions.
The Tetley is Leeds’ newest centre for contemporary art and learning that opened in November 2013. Created in the iconic headquarters of the former Tetley’s Brewery in South Central Leeds, the Tetley shows and champions work by emerging and mid-career artists that is critically engaged and ambitious. Whilst The Tetley supports artists who are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art practice, the centre is committed to making their work accessible and enjoyable to visitors of all ages and backgrounds through participation and events programmes.
Lucy Beech: Me and Mine and Oculist Witnesses: According to Duchamp (2 May to 4 July 2015) are part of the Dance First, Think Later contemporary art programme curated by Clarissa Corfe.