Lou Lou Sainsbury: 'Earth is a Deadname'
Through visions of a world where bodies exist in constant transformation, Lou Lou Sainsbury illuminates alternative perspectives on being by activating queer mythologies.
Lou Lou Sainsbury, To the pain in the womb o womb womb womb fleshy womb (2022). Antique cabinet, masking tape, alien souvenir figurine, cowboy boot lamp, oestradiol wrappers. 100 x 80 x 51 cm. Exhibition view: Earth is a Deadname, Gasworks, London (7 July–18 September 2022). Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.
The artist's first solo exhibition in London at Gasworks (7 July–18 September 2022) re-imagines the transgender experience by creating an open platform where bodies are not only singular objects but amalgams that can be made and unmade.
Titled Earth is a Deadname, the exhibition carries a viscous but precarious weight, as seen from the very first work, Do you think the dead come back and watch the living? (2022).
A large installation of four steel-framed stained-glass panels measures over two metres in height. Each panel turns transparent under the amber lighting from the gallery ceiling and displays textured geometric patterns.
Upon closer observation, viewers can see dried flower petals and cigarette butts woven together, partly locked onto the screens, partly scattered on the floor, and completely trapped under a layer of honey glaze.
The installation's shapes vividly contrast with the coarse, rough-hewn greys on the gallery walls and ceiling in the foreground, where the text-based installation Fragments of Songbook (2022) creates a lexical frame around the four screens.
The artist applied words made of wax to the walls and covered them with silver spray paint, forming phrases like 'wrenched open', 'it appears', 'bird song', and 'a wet fish'. On the same wall hangs a coloured photo of Sainsbury taken by Kari Leigh Rosenfeld.
Titled [Nov 30, 2021 at 6:12:27 PM]: just a quick one. whats ya date of birth? im putting u as a witness for my trans form (2022), the image depicts a gel—the kind you might use during an ultrasound—spiralling along Sainsbury's biceps.
These works introduce Sainsbury's exhibition and the conversation it is having with the artist's interpretation of what it is to be transgender.
A 'deadname' is the birth name of a transgender person who has changed their name as a part of their transition. In Sainsbury's exhibition, earth is therefore no longer the planet that has been apprehended by its known terms, but instead, emerges as a body in a state of transformation.
Speaking to this state, three burnt-and-rusted steel plates lean against the wall nearby, forming the installation i keep you in my gut i keep you in my throat—are you hungry? i can feel you beating in me i can (2022).
Irregular cupcake-like objects are attached to the steel plates, made from a range of materials, from epoxy resin to soil, quail eggs, and apple cores, with different textures and bright colours.
Despite their attempt to look like real cupcakes, these surreal forms fail to appear sweet or appetising. Words like 'bite', 'burst', and 'fuckable', are written like icing on their tops, conceptually merging with the writing on the wall composing her other text-based work Fragments of Songbook.
Here, poetry is expressed in a unity of fragments, with the artist's use of written language creating an expansive and open-ended narrative that invites viewers to engage with the spaces between their meanings.
As an artist, Sainsbury often questions how we might become better listeners. Her sound piece The Law of Desire is Fascist (2022) is a visceral poem about what Sainsbury calls 'trans sensuality'. It was written by the artist in collaboration with Rosenfeld, and has been interpreted and performed in this recording by queer poet Jo Mariner.
Emanating from speakers in the second gallery, the poem references hormone replacement therapy (H.R.T.), reading, 'The euphoric touch of one month on H.R.T., waiting to dance out of the body, in recognition of its own existence.' It is a perspective of the trans experience that seeps with affect and hope.
As Mariner's voice fades, a screen in the room turns on, and Sainsbury's short film descending notes (2022) begins to play.
The film is a collaborative performance with artists Ada M. Patterson and Raffia Li. In a small white room, three performers who are described as 'performing' undercover as humans, act out an uncanny love story—the imagining of alternative relational possibilities.
Sainsbury describes herself as a time traveller, a message that comes through within the subtext of the film.
Echoing her installations in the main gallery, the three alien beings lather honey and dried flowers onto one another. They push and pull within a small space, creating a feeling of claustrophobia, isolation, and intimacy as the trio moves towards becoming a single, writhing and living object.
Sainsbury describes herself as a time traveller, a message that comes through within the subtext of the film, where the characters appear to exist in a timeless void.
Playing over the film is the haunting and beautiful piano melody from American soul singer Donny Hathaway's melancholic ballad for forgiveness and understanding told from the perspective of an estranged lover, 'A Song for You' (1971).
Among the lyrics of the original song is the line: 'I love you in a place where there's no space or time.' This, perhaps, is the true location of Sainsbury's world. —[O]