From the Weeping Water Bearer to the Shouting Chanter Phoebe English took us on a journey of female incarnations in her SS17 presentation in the tranquil upstairs rooms of the ICA. Plinths wrapped in black tulle and piles of objects tailored to each character made for a set with a strong narrative; paper planes for the Questioning Enquirer, tangles of knotted calico for the Waiting Strangler. The statuesque Kerrie Addy stood as the Losing Mourner, holding a drooping bunch of white gladioli with all the melancholy of Virginia Woolf, dressed in gathered tulle complete with veil. The Firing Archer stood amongst piles of apples, draped in volumes of asymmetrical white. The Phoebe English signatures were there in abundance; loose weaving, tactile knotting and a deconstructed approach to soft tailoring.
The complexity of the characters were reiterated by the occasional actions of the models; the Weeping Water Bearer poured water – tears? – into glass labatory beakers, the Firing Archer (mimed) shooting arrows from her bow. Whilst the presentation was not overtly theatrical the narrative was convincing and felt particularly pertinent given its political connotations.
Although English pointed out that the 7 experiences she was alluding to did not necessarily happen to her, they were in many ways relatable as they reflected things happening to a nation. These things were, she said, not specific to Brexit or any other single event but are metaphors for the feeling of things being done to you that are out of your control, decisions that seem to be made quickly and easily with untold consequences. Lies, tears, shock and protest are all present – this collection was significant for the way it addressed emotion and was politically poignant without being transparently rebellious.