Resting Bitch Face is a solo exhibition of new works by artist Hannah James. ‘Resting Bitch Face’ is term that is used to describe a woman whose natural facial expression is one of perceived hostility. It is a term that is symptomatic of our time – a culture in which the female body is commented upon, critiqued, commercialised and controlled.
The exhibition will examine how agency functions within gender and nature through the act of ‘Othering’. Otherness is created when a subject (historically male) is defined in opposition to an object (historically female) – the object then becomes The Other. Nature has also been historically positioned as an object (often a feminised one), and therefore also an Other. This body of new work will examine gender as a constructed form through making reference to 17th century botanical taxonomical painting, an evening art class, construction and workers.
The series of hanging paintings are tracings taken directly from the botanical taxonomer Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). The history of taxonomy connects with the history of colonisation: it represents the attempt to place a Westernised empirical knowledge structure onto what was then considered primitive and exotic habitats and cultures. The idea of a stable, categorical and truthful system is a masculine creation: a product of a fear of losing control. Merian challenged this patriarchal structure as one of the first women to undertake taxonomical research, to which she contributed a great deal in the life cycle of insects. Merian’s research took place in Surinam, which at the time was a Dutch colony. Her works, and James’ own careful yet impartial tracings of them, have a benign benevolence that conceals their complexity and questionability.
Class shows the outcome of a series of evening art classes James participated in. The class was advertised as ‘Botanical Painting’ but was in fact more focused upon traditional and general flower painting. The class participants were all women. In response to this, a sound recording made during the class was placed together with footage of construction workers, to make the film Famous Painter Lady, still alive!
Each work within Resting Bitch Face examines modes of representation as a means of identifying ourselves and others; to understand where we are each permitted (or not) to ‘fit’. Merian’s work speaks of early scientific processes of representation: observing, identifying, naming, claiming, stealing and owning. The politics of identification and representation can be violent and unjust, because the ethics of sameness and difference are as well.