Wash Your Dirty Linen in Public

Peterborough's first exhibition of live art
Chapatti Wife: Cooks Chutney 2016 – Gaganpreet Gill Kaur. Image: Rosie Cooper

Wash Your Dirty Linen in Public ran at City Gallery, Peterborough in February and March 2016. It was Peterborough’s first exhibition of live art, produced and curated by Peterborough Presents' Emerge trainees and visual artists Penelope Harrall, Charlotte Barlow and Gaganpreet Gill Kaur.

The project

The Emerge training programme is part of the Young Producers strand of Peterborough Presents. It offers a bespoke schedule of artistic development over six months to artists aged under 25, with the aim to equip participants with the skills to become sustainable artists or go on to work for an arts organisation. As well as individual development, participants also work together to build on Peterborough’s growing arts and cultural offering, particularly projects that would appeal to audiences in their own age group. There is also an Emerge network for young artists and producers working in the city.

In this second round of the Emerge training programme, artists Charlotte, Penelope and Gaganpreet worked with Vivacity’s City Gallery, to produce an exhibition of live art. The artists decided to produce new, site-specific pieces for the exhibition, and draw on themes of domesticity and gender. Each piece was durational, which meant the artists were in the gallery space for up to seven hours a day, replicating the processes of a house wife – cooking, cleaning, and sewing, to expose and deconstruct the ‘everyday’.

The aim for this project, as well as development for the trainees, was also to bring new audiences to the gallery, particularly those aged under 25. To broaden the types of art on offer, the artists programmed a special performance weekend – rather than a private view  –  where they invited  artists from other art forms to perform in the gallery space. They included Charley Genever, Peterborough Poet Laureate 2016, who wrote poems inspired by each artwork, and emerging musicians Laurie Fisher and Haleema Naeem.

What were the challenges?

An initial challenge lay in explaining to audiences what live art meant in the context of a gallery. The group produced some video content to start the conversation, as well as sharing examples of famous artists such as Marina Abramovic.

Raising the profile of the City Gallery was also challenge, as many members of the public weren’t aware that the gallery existed. Moreover, there had been some recent negative publicity about the cancellation of a Warhol exhibit, so proving to audiences that the project was ground-breaking was also a challenge. To overcome this, the artists spent some time delivering talks and workshops at Peterborough Regional College, as well as using social media channels to share informative and interesting content. Face-to-face contact between artist and audience helped get greater numbers attending the exhibition.

What was the impact of the project?

Peterborough Presents used the Culture Counts metrics to evaluate the exhibition, particularly for capturing the response to the performance weekend. 

  • 39% of interviewees had never experienced live art before, and for 24% it was their first time in the gallery

  • 79% agreed that the exhibition made them want to find out more about the arts in Peterborough, and 80% agreed it made them feel connected to local culture

  • 19% of the audience were under 25

Overall, the top three emotions experienced were ‘interested’, ‘inspired’, and ‘engaged’. The evaluation showed that the project succeeded in attracting a younger audience to the gallery and that there was an appetite in Peterborough for art that's different and ground-breaking. 

Audience feedback:

“It’s so great that this is happening in Peterborough. Thank you!”

“I loved the smell of the food! Really yummy, I never thought food could be art.”

“I feel transformed. An inspiring and important exhibition. Well done girls.”

Since finishing their internships, Charlotte has been accepted in to the Slade School of Fine Art to do her MA, whilst Penelope and Gill are now actively pursuing other opportunities to create work in Peterborough and beyond.

Peterborough Presents are about to recruit the next round of interns and are revisiting Emerge's initial aims to explore how the next intake of Emerge trainees can work even more closely with the Peterbrough Presents team to deliver a regular offering of activity and opportunities for members of the Emerge network and their audiences.

More about the art

Chapatti Wife: Cooks Chutney 2016 – Gaganpreet Gill Kaur

Chapatti Wife, an alter ego of Gaganpreet Gill Kaur,  is married to cultural expectation, and constantly shops, cooks and cleans. She brings an open community kitchen to the gallery, cooking freshly made chutney and chapatti. Inspired by Langar – a free vegetarian feast provided at every Sikh Gurdwara – people from all walks of life are welcome to sit on the floor and eat the same meal together. Trapped in a laborious routine for the duration of the exhibition, Chapatti Wife becomes a cyborg – something between a human and machine. The host, or servant is referenced by Chapatti Wife’s actions questioning the hierarchy of the server and consumer. Empty jars on the wall await to be filled with chutney from the guests, a display where separate identities become a community systematically controlled by Chapatti Wife. The space is a spice-infused exchange of giving and receiving. Watch film here


5 ft 3 2016 – Charlotte Barlow

The building, its horizontals and verticals indicative of a system, is the artist’s own personal space – its dimensions are based on Barlow’s height with windows double her hand-width. She is protected yet held captive by her own physical limitations, ‘white cube’ gallery ideals and house maintenance. Working the average mother’s week of cleaning – 13.15 hours – Barlow laboriously cleans and dirties mounds of washing powder with cleaning equipment such as a dustpan and brush, sponges with water and a vacuum cleaner.

Barlow addresses the cultural status of cleaning, the relationship between freedom and maintenance and gender expectations of domestic housework. She predominately sees the work as a metaphor for current consumerist Western landscape, where the cleanliness of the body is of a higher concern than the cleanliness of the mind. For Barlow, the repetitive nature of her actions with a non-traditional, non-resalable material is a cathartic mentally liberating process in an attempt to escape embedded expectations. The inevitability of the dirty to be cleaned and the clean to be dirtied remains in a never-ending cycle. Watch film here


My Luxury Item – Penelope Harrall

My Luxury Item is aimed at highlighting the disproportionate VAT on sanitary products or more commonly known as ‘The Tampon Tax.’ Prior to the exhibition, Penelope Harrall used 2098 tampons to create a sculptural and wearable dress. Through a laborious unraveling, distorting and stitching process, she concealed the tampon’s original form. In the gallery, Penelope stitches into the dress with blood red thread. The action will signify the beauty of the natural female body, representing the menstrual cycle in contrast to society’s perception of period blood being dirty and unhygienic.

The video on display alongside the performance of live stitching in the gallery, shows the filmed process of the dress’s creation in Harrall’s home. There are threads to the side where the audience, both men and women, were invited to stitch the dress with Penelope and communally join the tampon tax debate. Watch film here


Watch this short film about Wash Your Dirty Linen in Public

  All images: Rosie Cooper rxcrose.com