A woman sits imprisoned in her own giant wedding cake, its tiers like manacles around her naked body. Another is lopped into parts and then badly reassembled, so that her limbs are uselessly displaced. A third lies shrouded in a white coffin, its lid open for the viewing of the corpse – except that at second glance this is not a casket. This woman is entombed in a shiny fridge-freezer.
There is such an affinity between these photo-based images – so visually coruscating, so emotionally succinct – that they might almost be by the same artist. But the first two were made by the British-American Penny Slinger (born 1947), and the last is from the British sculptor, photographer and installation artist Helen Chadwick (1953-96), whose superbly original imagination remains such a deep loss to the art scene.
The two are paired at Richard Saltoun Gallery to extraordinary effect. Each makes the other look even stronger. To say that these two women broke taboos in the late 60s and 70s would be true, but an understatement. They look startlingly radical right now.
The revelation of this photo-based show is that both artists started at the highest of pitches and never left off
Slinger tears into 60s admass images of women. Out of the mouth of a model in sultry satin, her silver eyelids seductively half-shut, slithers a glistening, serpentine coil. The Laval Worm (1969) is a shocker of a warning: be careful what you wish for. A lingerie ad is adapted so that the bra seems to develop an unsmiling mouth, visible behind a bodice of chain mail.
A girl dressed in a classic 60s leotard lies prone in a desert. She may be dead or alive, it is hard to tell. Preying upon her flawless body is a weird hybrid of skeleton and gigantic avian wing. Leda Legend is the title; a devastating reprise of myth as reality, with the added dimension of death. Rape as something far worse than a great big swan.
Slinger graduated from Chelsea College of Art in 1969 with 50% The Visible Woman, a photobook of black and white collages that appear fantastically far-sighted in their repudiation of the awful old misogyny of the male-led surrealists, as obsessed with bare breasts and vulvas as any porn-mag addict. Her collages are a cutting reprise.
The Surprised Tin Opener, 1969 by Penny Slinger. Photograph: © Penny Slinger
A photograph of a woman is superimposed, at crotch level, with an open sardine can containing a bloody severed finger. Another interpolates a pair of scissors over the genitals – one in the eye for lascivious gawpers – but a beautiful rose for a face. Slinger has a superlative eye for substitution and placement.
The collage Don’t Look at Me shows a beautiful woman in a veil turning away from the …….