Housed in a former Methodist chapel in North London, Zabludowicz Collection is one of the country’s most innovative arts organisations, delivering a unique programme of exhibitions and events.
For its prestigious Annual Commission this year, Zabludowicz Collection has invited American artist Trulee Hall to create her first ever UK exhibition. Through of a mixture of newly commissioned work, pieces from the Collection and a number of videos, paintings and sculptures made over the past two years, Hall has transformed the chapel’s gallery spaces into an engrossing experience.
As the Zabludowicz Collection’s exhibition introduction explains, “the viewer moves through discordant scenes, each presenting a tangled meta-narrative. Installations comprising video, sculpture, paintings, composed soundtracks, and kinetic mechanisms create dense environments that invite the visitor to step around, peep through, and settle in, allowing a fractured and faceted perspective. Reappearing tropes populate the exhibition; stylised female nudes with mouths agape, rendered in gold and primary colours; bodies of many ages, genders and sizes relishing their physicality; and often repeated phallic serpents and corncobs.”
A focal point for the exhibition is Tongues Duel the Corn Whores, An Opera, a commission that began as a performance of the same name, realised by Hall at Zabludowicz Collection in 2019. Intended as an exploration of ritual and sexuality, the work weaves together Hall’s original score, libretto and choreography with an elaborate set, costumes, and props. Revolving around two female archetypes – the conservative and spiritual ‘Madonna’ and the hedonistic and provocative ‘Whore’ – CGI, clay animation and live footage are all employed to create an immersive, beguiling whole, “where there is no hierarchy of reality or rendering”.
Having just had the opportunity to scan the exhibition, The Net Gallery spoke to Hall to learn more about her approach to a fascinating, multifaceted show.
The Net Gallery: Given that the Zabludowicz Collection building is so unique, what was it like to plan an exhibition in the space?
Trulee Hall: The main gallery is indeed such an uncommon and distinctive space, the first time I saw the room, I knew I wanted to create something super site specific. I responded to the tall ceilings, the surrounding balcony, the oval shape, the stage, alter and carvings on the wall. I also reacted to the Methodist Church history and iconography, the overall sacred meets profane vibe to the environment, and of course the acoustics are amazing!
I interpreted the carvings on the wall though my own pervy Trulee lens, pulling inspiration free-association-style from historical archetypes and personally relevant motifs. I could see fertility symbols everywhere in the carvings, such as sheela na gigs, serpent-shaped sperm, pregnant women, corn columns, and flower wreaths.
One of the main sculptures in the exhibition was also the set for my Opera and film – this was an enlarged and forced perspective version of the central architectural carving on the wall above the alter.
With all of this as inspiration, the show basically made itself. In one night I planned out the whole installation.
TNG: What does the prominent use of gold signify for you in the exhibition?
TH: In the Opera, the gold signifies the flashy, flamboyant, showing-off version of confidence that typifies the Golden Whore characters. They are Las Vegas style strippers who represent excessive, hedonistic, greedy, overly sexualized women, in direct contrast to the holy and righteous women who wear all white.
Gold also represents money and power. The Golden Whores are all about the Golden Corn, which is a disembodied phallic symbol, like a dildo. However, the cob section is the female, flower part of the corn plant – so it is a phallic female symbol. The gold color references actual gold, the standard of wealth. The women are after power in a self-gratifying and delicious female form.
TNG: Your work has been compared in the past to that of Edward Kienholz. What influence has Kienholz had on your practice, and how would you describe the relationship between his installations and your own?
TH: I love it when people draw links between my work and other artists and ideas, and of course it’s a compliment to be comparable to great artists! I do like his work and I totally see the comparison, but honestly he has not had any influence on my practice directly. Perhaps culturally in an overall sense he has, but I didn’t even know about his work until I was already well formed as an artist.
The artists who were most influential on my work early on are Cindy Sherman, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Beuys, Eva Hesse, Egon Schiele, Basquiat, Henry Miller (in a philosophical sense), the Quay Brothers, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Jeff Koons, the Chapman Brothers, and Mathew Barney, I could go on… More recently, Suzan Pitt, Mika Rottenberg and Shana Moulton have had an impact. I am constantly inspired by other artists/writers/musicians and that is one of my greatest joys!
TNG: This is a broad and open-ended question, but how would you contrast the current climate in the US – either the country as whole, or the parts of it you know best – with the world(s) you present through your work?
TH: I don’t actually think of my work in that way. It’s totally fine for others to draw comparisons between my work and the current political climate, however that changes as time goes on. My work comes from an introspective place originating from my own internalized idiosyncratic provocations. I am very much alive in the world and of course I respond to it in my own way. It would be quite unnatural, uncomfortable and unrewarding for me to talk about my work in relation to Trump, for instance. I create my own worlds and characters, and the “logic” and language within them is self-reflexive.
I am obviously a sex-positive feminist, I’m incredibly passionate about animals and the environment, and in general I’m super opinionated! I’d prefer my work to be explored through a more abstract and provocative lens that is not limited to coronavirus politics and the current USA election! Although, of course it is really not up to me how my work is interpreted throughout time, but I personally do not feel inspired to make forced connections.