In The Frame: An Interview with The Girls

Together, Andrea Blood and Zoe Sinclair are known as The Girls—an artistic partnership that has revolved around intense tableaux self-portraits, live performances, videos and installations. Along with exhibiting regularly in the UK, they’ve shown at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and Milan’s UNO+UNO. Whether they’re taking on recognizable people and reimagining them, or creating entirely new and vibrant characters, you’re sure to be drawn in.

I volunteered as a contributor during their 2010 project, The Paper Eaters: Long Live the Photo Story, which took place inside the London department store Selfridges, and it saw a basement space transformed into a working office and participatory installation where they produced several issues of their own magazine. This paid tribute to the golden age of publications for teens and children, with problem pages, photo stories and craft articles. They went on to create similar live studio experiences in a shopping mall and in London’s Tate Britain.

I wanted to quiz The Girls about their most controversial pieces, their future projects, and how feminism fits into the picture.

the girls, two white women, wearing wigs and posing as Princes William and Harry

[The Girls, William and Harry].

How long does it take (on average) to prepare for one of your tableaux?

Andrea: That really depends on what we’re doing. Sometimes it could be a matter of days and at other times, weeks!

Do you prefer representing invented characters or real figures (such as your portrait of Prince William and Prince Harry)?

A: There are pluses and minuses of doing both; it’s fun to create an instantly recognizable figure and play with that, but on the other hand an invented character allows so much more creative freedom.

one of the girls as jonbenet ramsay wearing a wig and tiara and looking at the camera one of the girls as Myra Hindley in a mug shot looking at the camera

[The Girls, JonBenet Portrait and Myra Hindley Portrait].

I particularly love your controversial portraits of JonBenet Ramsay (the child beauty pageant winner murdered in 1996) and Myra Hindley (murderess, whose police mug shot is chilling and famous in its own right). Was it difficult to move into a more morbid theme, or was it something you felt you had to do? And what kind of reaction did you get for both of these images?

A: It was not difficult at all. And if anything that natural urge to make things a little darker and less comfortable than what they could be was one of the fundamental reasons we became friends and collaborators when this all began. When the Myra Hindley piece was shown in Selfridges Ultralounge 2010 it caused quite a stir and we had several complaints. One woman in particular complained every day. However I took the time with her to explain our reasons behind that piece and the pieces like JonBenet and she came away with a completely different perspective and was quite supportive.

Z: Being morbid has always come easily to us!

The Girls behind a table smiling at a computer. In front of the table are large letters that say Photo Story The Enemy is Time

[Zoe and Andrea, a.k.a. The Girls, at work on The Paper Eaters Magazine in Selfridges, 2010. Photo by Helen Jermyn].

In light of The Paper Eaters project and its references to teen magazines from the ’80s, do you think that girls grow up too quickly today and they don’t have the innocence of previous generations, or are we all just worrying too much, Daily Mail-style? [The Daily Mail is a British newspaper which has frequently been accused of scare-mongering tactics to generate headlines].

A: I think the worry is completely justified and the subject doesn’t get enough media attention. We need more in depth exposure and analysis from some harder hitting editorials rather than the sensational lip service granted by The Daily Mail and co. It’s a subject that we both feel very strongly about and anything we can do to raise awareness or help towards an actual positive change would be welcomed by us.

Z: This is a massive, real concern to us. I think Caitlin Moran highlighted it well in her recent book How to be a Woman—some teenage boys are horrified when teenage girls don’t wax their pubic hair off. This is due to the prevalence of porn. What an awful start this would be to your sex life, this ridiculous and eerie expectation!

At my all girls grammar school, in the 1990’s, we were taught NOTHING about: female orgasm, the clitoris, the emotional aspects of sex, how to assert yourself in a sexual relationship, date rape, or where to get an abortion. I wonder how much has changed in the classroom? At the UK Feminista FEM 11 conference in London in November we heard worrying stories about how a tiny minority of right-wing parents can block schools from being able to give teenagers this kind of information.

How has being feminists affected your art—do you find yourself consciously trying to break down barriers, or can you separate being a feminist from being an artist?

A: I don’t perceive there to be any barriers in place for us based on our gender alone. I do feel that we have a platform to raise feminist issues that we feel passionately about and doing that through art and humour is effective and appealing. As an artist you concentrate on subjects that interest you, so there is a feminist theme throughout a lot of our work. It’s hard to say when this became a conscious action as it’s a lot to do with how we’ve been brought up, and subjects that affect us on a personal level as much as them universally affecting women.

Do you think that mainstream art will always be controlled by men and the male gaze, or are we experiencing a shift towards equality?

A: There’s still a long way to go before equality across the board is reached, but at the same time things have never been better for female artists and art; that’s something to be grateful for. I think it’s up to the female artists of today to make space for themselves and make themselves heard.

Z: As more and more women artists are able to have more time to devote themselves to their practice, we will see growing numbers of women rising to the top.

nude white woman on a picnic table covered in snacks. A priest is serving himself some of the snacks

[“Nyotaimori, Vicar?” The Garden Party performance by The Girls]

Which other artists inspire you?

Z: Grayson Perry—for making the world a more interesting place, for his humour and openness, and the way he has dealt with the snobbery of the art world.

A: The world wouldn’t be the same without Yayoi Kusama either. We’re looking forward to her show at Tate Modern in 2012.

What advice would you give to female artists who are just starting out?

A: Just the same advice as I’d give to any artist: hone your craft, don’t settle for anything less than excellence, don’t make excuses, and work hard.

Z: Think carefully about how you will support yourself alongside your practice. Choose your romantic partner very carefully! Look after your mental health as well as your physical health. Avoid discussing your practice with anyone who continually makes you feel inadequate.

What can we expect to see from The Girls in 2012?

A & Z: We’re busy in the planning stages of some new work right now, so you can expect to see the result of that in the summer of 2012.

Previously: Votes for Women and Tackling the 1%, Art Therapy

by Polly Allen
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