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Exhibitions to see in May: Polly Penrose's 10 Seconds

An abandoned house and a body slumped over a mantelpiece, a pair of legs straddling a lilo.

Photographer Polly Penrose’s newest exhibition, 10 Seconds, is a revealing display of a woman’s attempts to use her body as a means of recording emotional experience and explore issues of feminine identity. In a selfie-obsessed society, where women endure a larger pressure to replicate the image of perfect womanhood as portrayed in the media – the poised work-out pics at the gym, the flat post-pregnancy tummy shots – 10 Seconds bears the weight of the expectations heaped upon girls and women.

It follows London-based Penrose’s first exhibition, A Body of Work, which previewed in 2014. An ongoing project that will accompany 10 SecondsA Body of Work showcases the female body in its various states – as it ages and undergoes changes – as powerful, agile and beautiful. 

Her nude portraits strive to achieve body liberation through the focus of a lens, addressing issues of anxiety and how we perceive our outer selves, particularly in relation to the space around us. For A Body of Work, Penrose documented key moments in her life, from her engagement, through to pregnancy and motherhood, as she fits herself into different restrictive spaces. A stack of chairs, the top of a flight of stairs, a bed and a boardroom table – candid shots that expose not only bare flesh, but the inner emotional state of the artist and the complex relationship between body and mind.

As with A Body of Work, there is a subtle touch of humour and playfulness to the images in 10 seconds, as we see the artist’s body draped over, or balancing on obscure objects in banal locations. The exhibition is comprised of three series, with each photograph taken by Penrose on a 10-second timer: Pool Party, which was shot in Ibiza, Paper Work, and I was Never Good at Yoga, where she uses meditation and yoga equipment as prosthetic extensions of her body. The exhibition 10 Seconds highlights the space of time it takes for Penrose to shoot herself in extreme circumstances, climbing to the top of a piece of furniture, twisting her body to a perverse angle. As a viewer, there is something uneasy about seeing the artist's spine pressed between a headboard and bare wall. Despite this, the photographs maintain a sense of calm and poise. 

Penrose carefully never reveals the ultimate indicator of her identity to us – her head is never in the image. The photographs are a process, as Penrose states, of ‘hammering my body into the landscape, one picture at a time.’ Because of this, her identity transforms and in every picture she becomes an integral part of the landscape or object that she has chosen to interact with.

‘The new work is objects interacting with my body. Much more of a physical transaction. Tactile forms shaped together making a temporary sculpture from my body and everyday objects’.

The nudes are a striking expression of feminine identification in the modern world, and Penrose states: 'As the work progressed and I did different projects, it became clear that my pictures explore female identity – what it is to be a woman now, with all the complexity, strength, bravery and humour that entails. It’s about how we fit in to all the myriad roles that are expected of us.”

Within 10 Seconds, Penrose continues an ongoing dialogue that has developed over the years, and allowed the artist to mould herself into her own muse. It is the contemporary selfie, and the classical nude, shown in a new light. 

Polly Penrose’s 10 Seconds runs from 6-8 May 2016 at Hoxton Gallery, 59 Old Street, EC1V 9HX. 

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