Flowers Gallery is delighted to present a solo exhibition by London-based artist Victoria Cantons. This exhibition features a thematic cycle of large paintings, which track the artist’s own transgender history, to reflect on issues of identity and what it means to be a woman.
Working from a personal archive of photographs made over a period of more than a decade in the years before, during, and after intensive facial surgery, Cantons’ paintings present a record of trauma and healing, alongside a rigorous inquiry into the social constraints surrounding gender politics.
Painted and sequenced non-chronologically, the works weave a story that extends to the present day, reflecting on the vulnerability of the body and the empowering action of physical transformation.
Cantons’ paintings are luminous and visceral in their depiction of flesh, capturing the vivid, shape-shifting bloom of post-surgical bruising, and the mottled lustre of theatrically applied makeup. Fading scar tissue, as well as greying hair marks the passage of time within these works, in which there is also a sense of the inevitable invisibility of the aging female body. Cantons describes the importance of accuracy and honesty in the paintings, saying “I needed to show exactly what this woman has been through.”
As their titles suggest, the Transgender Woman paintings assert a resistance to labels, and Cantons often uses language to explore the freedoms and boundaries of the human condition on her own terms. A series of neon wall works use the form of handwritten text to communicate well-known affirmations. I am enough, which features in this exhibition, engages the personal pronoun “I” to generate a positive statement for both the author and reader of the work.
Cantons also explores the intersection of language and performance in a four-minute video titled Clinging to My Own Beliefs / Belly Button Fuzz. This work responds to Freud’s concept of the superego, using iterations of the question “What is of…?” as the basis for an unflinching interrogation of experience.
Still from 'Clinging To My Own Beliefs / Belly Button Fuzz', 2017, single-channel HD video, colour and sound (2 channel mono), total running time 4 min 7 sec
Clinging To My Own Beliefs / Belly Button Fuzz comes out of the questions: What’s waiting around the corner? What can’t I get away from? I was thinking at the time that in the dying embers we can all be one. We’re born in a camera lens, from day one we’re being poked and prodded. When I was conceiving the work I was thinking about the hopes and yearnings of what’s around the corner… we are not what we are, we are something perceived by society. We are all of our lives. You don’t have to be new and perfect to be beautiful. You can be battered, scruffy and even plain but you can still be ravishing. ‘Time’ can ‘age’ but that doesn’t make ‘ugly’. How does one deal with all of this?!
For most of the day my head is filled with an endless stream of questions, and they are disparate and random! But that’s what life is like, isn’t it? It batters us and yet I feel we have to be like the blade the of grass that gets trodden on and stands back up. The question prompts: “What is of…” are in retrospect not dissimilar to Kipling’s poem If–: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same” whilst the repeated slap acts as a punctuation mark –life’s metronome– for the questions that interrogate but but have no clear answer.
The greek philosopher Plato wrote in his account of fellow philosopher Socrates: “The only thing I know, is that I know nothing”. Our birth is our first great trauma and whilst we don’t remember it, we carry the scar forever. We are all the same. For me, it all comes down to acceptance of other people which ties into acceptance of ourselves. The final thought: permanent change is what life is about. You don’t want it anymore and yet it comes again and again. The words will be gone, but their imprint may last forever.