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Art Review: Familiar Machines at BACKLIT

13 March 19 words: Caroline Barry

Familiar Machines brings together works which explore the movement of body and machine through public and online space. The exhibition presents mechanisms of power and feminine governance that question patriarchal systems, and reinforce ideas around social disobedience. Our Caroline got down on International Women's Day to see the exhibition...

So, I have a confession to make; I had never been to Backlit Gallery before.  In fact, I was not (despite living in Sneinton for a bit) even sure where it was.

If any exhibition was going to introduce me to a gallery then I am glad it was this one. The roll call of artists involved with Familiar Machines was impressive and definitely sparked my interest as a self-described ‘loud feminist’. It featured work from Orlan, Sondra Perry, Dominique Golden, Guerrilla Girls, Millie Quick, Kembra Pfahler, Hannah Parikh, Global Sistaz United and Martha Wilson. The exhibition brings together works which ‘explore the movement of body and machine through public and online space.’  

Familiar machines is a wonderfully empowered and empowering collection of work from a collection of strong female artists. It was a huge thrill for me finally see a piece of Orlan’s work as I had studied her for so long in art college admiring her bravery. Backlit features a video piece of one of her surgery pieces from 1993. A violent and intense piece which is almost too much to watch. However, I feel delighted for having seen it.

The pieces are incredibly well chosen and curated. A Martha Wilson piece (a photography of her performance as Donald Trump which is eerily uncanny) hangs near and lends to a giant Guerrilla Girls piece. Another stand out piece from Wilson is her one-minute video piece ‘Makeover: Melania Trump’ where her face morphs into Melania and back into her own again. Another eerie piece reminding us of our own mortality and also, that beauty fades.

Another eerie piece reminding us of our own mortality and also, that beauty fades.

The work strongly questions the notions of a patriarchal society by presenting female work that uses ‘humour, grotesque imagery, technological manipulation and the body’ to not go gently into that good night. It is defiance and rebellion in its presentation. Nothing sums up this defiance and rebellion more than the piece by Millie Quick where gendered toilet signs are (rightfully) placed in a waste bin. The only place that the old notions of binary gender deserve to be.

No better day then International Women’s Day to present a number of works celebrating the work of such incredible female artist. Also, a side note, that there is nothing better on a cold, wet March Friday then a cold prosecco. A very welcome touch.


Familiar Machines takes place at Backlit Gallery from the 9th of March until the 26th of May 2019. Read more about it here.

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