Book Six of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the epic poem and mainstay of Greek mythology, tells the tale of Arachne, a young shepherd’s daughter with a keen interest in weaving who, after being challenged to a contest by Athena, the goddess of wisdom and crafts, was deemed triumphant and thus transformed into a spider. The legend, attributed by some as the aetiology of spiders’ web-spinning skills, feels apt when discussing Anna Perach‘s debut London solo exhibition. The artist regularly returns to folkloric tales or mythological narratives that feature a female protagonist, both as a way of foregrounding the continued cultural resonance of such storytelling amongst communities - either as an educational tool or as a way of easily expressing personal, imitate experiences - and to challenge such stories problematic penchant for portraying women in a monstrous or demonic light.
The exhibition’s central character, Spidora, is in fact inspired by an infamous Victorian optical illusion, invented by American magician Henry Roltair, that featured a freakish spider-woman hybrid and became a fixture of circus sideshows and travelling carnivals. Perach’s spideress, an odd amalgamation of human and arthropod limbs all crafted using the artist’s signature tufted textiles, occupies Edel Assanti’s basement space, lights lowered and accompanied by an intermittent eerie scratching soundscape. Perach’s adoption of tufting, a traditional craft technique used to make carpet tiles, allows the artists to examine the aesthetics evident in the Slavic tapestries of her native Ukraine and to proffer contemporary critique on the gendered delineation of such decorative art practices as woman’s work.
Gender stereotypes are further questioned when Spidora was animated during an activation on the exhibition’s opening night, as a performer embodied Perach’s wearable weaving to traverse the gallery space turned spider’s web. With limited movement provided by the sculpture suit, and claustrophobia setting in from the sensory deprivation, an unsettling struggle ensued, reflective of the often restrictive expectations demarcated by gender.
Alongside the titular spidey-sculpture, now enjoying a period of stasis for the duration of the exhibition, a chainmail metal pouch hanging from the ceiling casts a sinister shadow. Seemingly Spidora’s amniotic sac, containing a cluster of carpeted incorporeal body parts, inside the next generation of anthropoid arachnids are gestating peacefully. Nearby a tufting frame attached to the gallery wall acts as both a performative exposing of the artworks’ means of production and as a conceptually considered deconstruction of the Spidora species’ anatomy, akin to the early anatomical drawings or diagrams of Leonardo da Vinci.