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Everything is going Tits Up!

Everything is going Tits Up!
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“Tits Up” is the latest work by artist Tina Crawford. This limited-edition art quality print portrays a violet brassiere embroidered with the writing “tits up” in yellow thread over the cups. “Tits Up” was exhibited for the first time in March 2020 during Leyden Gallery’s ARTY at the Harley Street Healthcare Clinic. It was part of a series of events that dynamically brought together the notion of art and well-being.

 Tina Crawford is a free embroidery artist based in London, whose practice has been deeply influenced by her health. Crawford studied at Central St Martins, and after completing a jewellery degree, she started a career in television. However, a chronic illness shortly interrupted her job, forcing her to stay at home. During that period, she found relief in free embroidering. Thanks to its speed, fluidity, and unpredictability, the sewing machine allowed her to come alive again. This instrument found by chance quickly became an extension of her hands and contributed to keeping her sane.

 With the help of her sewing machine, the artist explored sensitive themes, showing how personal, intimate experiences, can influence on a global scale. Her artwork “Comfort Blanket”, for example, was inspired by her history with eating disorders. The non-recyclable packages of the comfort food she would eat compulsively, are now used as canvases for her works. However, if we abstract the artwork from her personal experience, the upcycled items are physical evidence of how unhealthy, and unsustainable eating habits can negatively impact on a global scale, feeding the current climate emergency.

Similarly, in “Tits up” the artist was able again to bring a personal experience on a larger scale. The work was inspired by an old school friend’s battle against breast cancer. The artist remembers the woman for her spirit and positivity, so she was not surprised to see that the hashtag “my tits are trying to kill me” accompanied her story on social media. Crawford’s reflection on her friend’s experience made her think about how things were going wrong in the world, but still not even close to the debut of 2020, when everything has irremediably gone “Tits up” for many.

Being in a battle against our own body profoundly affects our mental wellbeing, and treatments can change us indelibly. These profound affects have historically led other artists to shift attention onto this topic, creating something like a politics of breast cancer through art representation. One of these artists is the photographer Jo Spence. Born in London in 1934, Jo started her career as a wedding photographer in the late 60s until the mid-70s. From the 1970s, however, she adopted a politicised and feminist approach to her work, as she, along with Rosy Martin moved her practice to a documentary level. These photographs explored topics such as ageing, divorce and illness, in contrast with the conventional representation of women’s lives. The artist explored the potential of photography as a tool to confront ourselves with the most uncomfortable aspects of our bodies and during the most challenging periods of our lives. In her self-portraits, she documented her battle against cancer, and her pictures offer the patient’s point of view to the viewer. She fought the idealisation of the female form, challenging the conventional representation of perfect lives and the common victim-blaming language often used to describe the patient and the disease. Shifting the attention to the patient, Jo Spence contributed to highlighting the centrality and humanity of the individual during the treatments. At the same time, she also stressed the importance of engaging with the issues related to our knowledge and understanding of cancer.

The American artist Hannah Wilke also used her body with a similar purpose. Hannah Wilke is known for exploring issues of feminism, sexuality and femininity. Inspired by the values of the Women's’ Liberation Movement, she first began her career as a sculptor, and her explicit sculptures of female genitalia in terracotta allowed her to gain growing success. The use of unconventional materials underlined her association to feminist art practice, referring to women’s historical lack of access to art supplies. In her art piece S.O.S. - Starification Object Series (1974), for example, she combined her previous experience as a sculptor to her recent focus on body art, moulding chewing gums into vulva-shapes and attaching them to her body. From the 70s, she focused on photography, video and performance art. She first approached the thematic of the fight against breast cancer in the late 70’s, when she assisted the progression of her mother’s illness. Unfortunately, a few years later, she underwent the same diagnosis. She started to document the changes in her body - subject and medium of her art from almost the beginning of her career - until she died in 1993. The series Intra-Venus represent a naked truth, where the aftermaths of the treatments were shown without any filter, and it became a concrete rebuttal to the critics who claimed that the artist’s work was purely narcissistic.

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