Production image for Balaclava (+/-), 2019 © Madeleine Pledge, courtesy the artist
detail: Stretch (Keeler / Fleury), 2021 stacked ‘Keeler’ chairs (walnut and beech), diagonally s t r e t c h e d knitted polyester ribbing (black and white) and stretch woollen foldover ribbing (red), c.14th–18th century dress pins collected from the Thames foreshore, chromed hard brass dress pins cast from two originals, chromed fixings exhibition view: Weaponized Glamour, two person exhibition with Alice Channer, Case Study Project Space, London, 2021 © Madeleine Pledge, courtesy the artist and Case Study Project Space, London
exhibition view: Weaponized Glamour, two person exhibition with Alice Channer, Case Study Project Space, London, 2021 © Madeleine Pledge, courtesy the artist and Case Study Project Space, London

Madeleine Pledge

with Wells Fray-Smith

‘I often remake artworks and objects from the orbits of other artists as a way of trying to open up a space to work somewhere between the repetitive tyranny of capitalist production on one hand, and fictions of individualised authorship and artistic originality on the other.’

 Listen to Madeleine in conversation with Alice Channer here

 My name is Madeleine Pledge. I work with sculpture, using replicas and remakes, clothing and furniture to approach bodies, subjects, objects, authorship, and power via the glamorised surfaces of fashion and design. I often remake artworks and objects from the orbits of other artists as a way of opening up a space to work somewhere between the repetitive tyranny of capitalist production on one hand, and fictions of individualised authorship and artistic originality on the other.

I’m interested in the space between image and object – my work continually fluctuates between flatness and three dimensionality, expanding and contracting that gap. The materials I use move between the smooth, hard edges of objects ‘bought’ into the work along with their lengthy mass production processes and multiple authorships on the one hand, and more soluble, unstable material like unfired flax fibre clay, squid ink, pulped Vogue magazines, or metal oxide powders. I want the work to insist on ‘surfaces’ as active and reactive substance and to undermine the ease implied by the idea of ‘the readymade’, as well as the impossible idea of a neutral process of production.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I’m showing works from a couple of series. The first are several pairs of striped unfired clay boots, which are part of an ongoing series Be Soft But Not Too Soft. They are hand-modelled from images of a pair of real boots worn by fellow London Open artist Michelle Williams Gamaker. The boots are shown with an altered replica of the ‘+/–’ and ‘op’ patterned machine-knitted balaclavas from Rosemarie Trockel’s series of works from 1986; either folded and placed on top of the boots or flattened beneath a heel.

The second work I’m showing is part of the series Stretch (after Sylvie Fleury) (red, black, white diagonal) (2022). Made specifically for the exhibition, the work is formed by bands of red, black, and white elastic pulled taut along the diagonal line of the staircase between the galleries. Each ‘stretch’ of elastic is held in place by original and cast and chromed copies of c.14th–18th century dress pins, pulled out of the anaerobic mud on the shores of the Thames near my studio.

This Stretch re-articulates two 1996 works by Sylvie Fleury: square, close-up images of women’s torsos dressed in horizontally and diagonally striped knitwear, titled Stretch Pullover Nr. 3 and Stretch Pullover Nr. 5. Echoing the directional bands of Fleury’s knitted stripes here and holding them in place with pins that fixed the clothing of Londoners in place hundreds of years ago is a way, for me, of examining and collapsing together overlapping timelines of dressing, glamour, production, and authorship.

 Where is the body located in your work? It seems both present and absent. Bodies are implied as potential wearers of the balaclavas and boots, and the stretch works may make us think of our own bodies; how we move and the boundaries and limits that affect us.

 Bodies are everywhere and nowhere in the work, but I’m wary of the singular and totalising implications suggested by the phrase ‘the body’. I want the work to insist on multiplicity and the multiple authorship involved in its production.

As things that suggest or invite wearing, I think of the boots and balaclavas quite literally as ‘points of entry’ into the work. By pairing them together in series, I want to multiply those ‘points of entry’ into a shared space to occupy; maybe a kind of uniform for accomplices. For me, the taut boundaries of the Stretch work, and the ‘steep curve’ in the new pair of boots made to sit alongside it, relate implicitly to the forces of capitalism and the structures and strictures it subjects us to.

 Your work includes the names of other artists in the titles – in this case, Rosemarie Trockel, Sylvie Fleury and fellow exhibition artist Michelle Williams Gamaker. Can you tell us more about your titles and why you often invoke other women?

 My interest in re-making began in my final year at art school as a strategy to work with and against the sense of confusion I had about what I should be making and how to position myself in relation to art-making and authorship. The first thing I re-made was an electric blue Dior homme leather jacket belonging to Isa Genzken. It was a sculpture, but also something I could wear for my degree show; a kind of semi-serious talismanic gesture.

This process has continued to be a way of locating myself as an artist. I saw Michelle post an image of herself wearing her incredible striped boots on Instagram with the caption ‘Artist’s uniform’ in 2019, and instantly knew I wanted to remake them. I value and admire Michelle’s artistic comradeship as a friend and colleague in the unstable terrain of the ‘art world’ enormously too.

I often choose the works and objects I borrow for the resistant, weaponised version of glamour they suggest to me. That connects to gender, and my own position as an artist and a woman, but not in a binary or rigid sense. Invoking the names of the artists in the titles is a way of explicitly citing my sources and acknowledging the multiple authorships woven into the fabric of the work.
 

Work in the exhibition:
Balaclava (op), 2019
Inverted ‘op’ balaclava after Rosemarie Trockel; design translated from images and knitted by Sarah Shepherd
Machine knitted donegal lambswool hand dyed with natural hair dye (ebony black) and squid ink, undyed donegal lambswool (natural chalk)
38 x 22 x 2 cm

Balaclava (op), 2019
Inverted ‘op’ balaclava after Rosemarie Trockel; design translated from images and knitted by Sarah Shepherd
Machine knitted donegal lambswool hand dyed with natural hair dye (ebony black) and squid ink, undyed donegal lambswool (natural chalk)
38 x 22 x 2 cm

Balaclava (+/–), 2019
Inverted, greyscaled, and horizontally flipped ‘+/–’balaclava; green, and yellow iron oxides
41 x 27 x 9.5 cm approx.

Be Soft But Not Too Soft (Michelle), 2019
Boots modelled after a pair owned by Michelle Williams Gamaker unfired flax fibre clay with grogged body (hand modelled); red, blue, green, and yellow iron oxides
41 x 27 x 9.5 cm approx.

Be Soft But Not Too Soft (Michelle), 2019
Boots modelled after a pair owned by Michelle Williams Gamaker unfired flax fibre clay with grogged body (hand modelled); red, blue, green, and yellow iron oxides
41 x 27 x 9.5 cm approx.

Be Soft But Not Too Soft (Michelle with Sylvie Stripes and Steep Curve), 2022
Boots modelled after a pair owned by Michelle Williams Gamaker Unfired flax fibre clay with grogged body (hand modelled); iron oxide, porcelain slip, calcium powder, and activated charcoal powder
41 x 27 x 9.5 cm approx.

Stretch (after Sylvie Fleury) (red, black, white diagonal), 2022
Diagonally s t r e t c h e d knitted polyester ribbing (black and white) and stretch woollen foldover ribbing (red), c.14th–18th century dress pins collected from the Thames foreshore, chromed hard brass dress pins cast from two originals, chromed fixings
Site-specific; dimensions variable
 

Madeleine Pledge (1993, London, UK)
2016 BA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, London

Selected exhibitions: Weaponized Glamour, Case Study Project Space, London (2021); On the Western Window Pane, Van Gogh House, London (2021); Like a

Sieve, Kupfer, London (2020); Stretch, Flatland Projects, Hastings (solo) (2019); The Weather Garden: Anne Hardy curates the Arts Council Collection, Towner Eastbourne, Eastbourne (2019); Die Wohnung (The Dwelling), SET Project Space, London (2018); Portrait (for a screenplay) of Beth Harmon, Tenderpixel, London (2017)
 

Image credits:
Be Soft But Not Too Soft (Michelle), 2019
(series of 3, unique)
boots modelled after a pair owned by Michelle Williams Gamaker
unfired flax fibre clay with grogged body (hand modelled); red, blue, green, and yellow iron oxides

Balaclava (op), 2019
inverted ‘op’ balaclava after Rosemarie Trockel; design translated from images and knitted by Sarah Shepherd (two shown from an edition of 10). Machine knitted donegal lambswool hand dyed with natural hair dye (ebony black) and squid ink, undyed donegal lambswool (natural chalk)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

 


 

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko’s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge’s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara’s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
 

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
 

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja’s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard’s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
 

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.