Cob Gallery is proud to present as its debut online exhibition ‘Escape Fantasy’, a selection of original works on paper by Frances Waite. Best known for her subversive approach to photorealistic graphite drawing, Waite’s practice explores the conflicts that arise at uncomfortable intersections between truth and fantasy.
Waite’s unnervingly ‘near-truth’ alternate realities are, more often than not, designed to be published to her online audience, and questions our ideas of authenticity and verisimilitude, unpacking the vulnerabilities which underpin how we interact and identify with one another virtually. Prophesying the implausibility and absurdity of a digital utopia, her work satirises the fruitlessness of human interactions in the digital realm.
Central to Waite’s practice is a powerful re-appropriation, and subsequent weaponisation, of voyeurism. Waite reclaims a version of female objectification by means of dissembling patriarchal structures and by way of challenging the male gaze. Waite’s images of female transgression can be interpreted as a critical response to an ambiguity between the idea of female empowerment and the countervailing rise in online, hyper-sexualised femininity, along with a culture of the online alter-ego which still appears to ‘court’ the male gaze. These concepts collide in recent drawing series ‘Horny Environmental Meltdown’ where Waite’s interpretation of a female-centric, call-of-the-wild, post-apocalyptic world becomes a metaphor for a transgressive, lawless digital wasteland.
Waite’s nude or barely clothed imagined subjects roam in herds across windswept grass and wetlands and empty city streets. Scattered across the compositions, the last surviving totems of our obliterated civilisation can be seen: defunct wind farms and dilapidated telephone poles form symbols of the burning embers of mankind. Waite imagines these post-apocalyptic species as a combination of homoerotic, hermaphrodite, independent, nomads. The works are bound together by their unsettling ambiguity: are these subjects vacant, or aware of their past; are they empowered or abandoned; in peril or in paradise? Is theirs an escape from reality – or an inescapable fantasy?
Included in the presentation is a suite of drawings where female subjects assume the familiar poses of a ‘nude selfie’, occupying the foregrounds of barren outdoor backdrops, or laid out on beds of flames. Stripped bare of the sheer pointlessness of IG-filtered seduction, these subjects take on expressions of maniacal emptiness, and a raw sexuality - harrowingly ambivalent to the danger that is about to engulf them. They represent a collision of danger and desire that connects up with a time-immemorial Whore/Babylon narrative and fear of female transgression in patriarchal society - bound up with millenarian fears about ‘the end of the world’ – or at least the end of man-kind.
Waite’s series is rooted in the classic preoccupations of Science Fiction where the success of this genre lies in its ability to romanticise the future by intermingling scientific fact and prophetic vision. Today, we understand that many of the fantastical devices and practices imagined by it are coming to life – Huxley, Orwell, Atwood (who incidentally believes that women will bear the brunt of the climate apocalypse) each conjured fictions to which our own present-day reality has come uncomfortably close.
In centring her work on the idea of climate catastrophe, Waite taps into a very real Gen-Z anxiety; at the same time, her interest in the digital sphere connects her work up with the very communication technology often heralded by classic science fiction for its potentially damaging effects on society and politics. With this in mind, Waite’s series constitutes an undeniable, albeit subtle, warning to the dangers faced by a digital civilisation as it sleepwalks towards global annihilation – ultimately and unavoidably dictated by environmental collapse. With wit, scorn, sadness, seduction and fright, her often horrifying, extraordinarily imaginative drawings are designed to captivate, engage and awaken a digital age that stares down the barrel of the gun of disaster while staring at a computer screen.
A trio of quietly intimate drawings, made in the last few weeks, closes the exhibition. An over-spilling ash tray, a pile of laundry and a burning gas stove: mundane observations that subtly bespeak a real anxiety concerning the moment we now find ourselves in. They stand is stark contrast to her previous works as the artist’s whimsically observed, real-time documentation of a very different and surprisingly domesticated ‘end of the world’ scenario. Perhaps, it seems, we’ve let our imaginations get the better of us – and ‘still life’ has never been more relevant as a pathos-ridden reminder of all that we took for granted in the not-too-distant past.
Cob Gallery will make a donation to Choose Love / Help Refugees with every sold artwork @chooselove