Jeannette Ehlers – Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind

Autograph ABP, London, United Kingdom
24 Apr 2015 - 20 Jun 2015

Jeannette Ehlers – Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind

Whip it Good, 2014 performance. Photo Nikolaj Recke

Autograph ABP presents Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind, the first UK solo exhibition by Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers.

Part I – Performances: 24 – 30 April, 2015, 7pm each night

Part II – Exhibition: 7 May – 20 June 2015

Presented in two parts, seven evening performances in the gallery followed by a seven-week exhibition, Whip it Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind retraces the footsteps of colonialism and maps the contemporary reverberations of the triangular slave trade via a series of performances that will result in a body of new ‘action’ paintings. Jeannette Ehlers’ practice takes the form of simple actions, which erase, enhance or animate historical spaces, raising complex questions about memory, race and colonialism. In Whip It Good, Ehlers fiercely confronts national and personal histories in an effort to critically reimagine and challenge racist systems of power and domination. During each performance, the artist radically transforms the whip – a potent sign and signifier of violence against the enslaved body – into a contemporary painting tool, evoking within both the spectators and the participants the physical and visceral brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. Deep black charcoal is rubbed into the whip, directed at a large-scale white canvas, and – following the artist’s initial ritual – offered to members of the audience to complete the painting.

However, the themes that emerge from Whip It Good trace beyond those of slavery: Ehlers’ actions powerfully disrupt historical relationships between agency and control in the contemporary. The ensuing ‘whipped’ canvases become transformative bearers of the historical legacy of imperial violence, and through a controversial artistic act re-awaken critical debates surrounding gender, race and power within artistic production. What the process generates for the artist, is an intensely focused space in which to make new work as part of a cathartic collaborative process. Ehlers seven newly produced paintings will then be displayed in the second part of the exhibition, Spinning from History’s Filthy Mind, from May 7 through to June 20, alongside a selection of earlier moving image works made by the artist.

Drawing on film, photography and video, Ehlers’ moving image works weave facts and images into potent triggers for forgotten memories or lived experiences. Waves (2009), a manipulated photograph and looped video projection, presents a hypnotic mediation on the trade in humans across the Atlantic. In The March (2012), Ehlers uses scans of her own brain to produce a quietly poetic work that references her personal development and coming to political consciousness. Off The Pig (2012) represents an ode to liberation struggles and the civil rights movement, and features the voices of Angela Davis, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers – here, the juxtaposition of militant voices and frantic chanting produces a rousing, hallucinogenic mini-documentary. Black Bullets (2012) is greatly influenced by the Haitian revolution led by Toussaint Louverture and shot at the Citadel in Haiti. In The Invisible Empire (2009), Ehlers provocatively places the figure of an elderly migrant (the artist’s father) as the protagonist of a sculptural video piece that highlight pertinent issues such as the plight of those caught up in human trafficking and modern day slavery. Using an archaeological approach to history, Ehlers’ dreamlike eulogies to freedom and resistance force us to think about global liberation and the collective well-being of marginalised people in the world today.

Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind is guest-curated by Karen Alexander.

Whip It Good was originally commissioned in 2013 by The Art Labour Archives and Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin.

The exhibition’s title ‘Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind’ is borrowed from the poem ‘Black Bullets’ by Krista Franklin.


Jeannette Ehlers is a Danish-Trinidadian visual artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ehlers’ work primarily with video and photography and her practice focuses on colonial and decolonial history. She was educated at the Funen Art Academy and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark. Recent exhibitions and conferences include a solo showcase at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse (2014); ‘Possession: Art, Power and Black Womanhood’, New Shelterplan, Copenhagen, Denmark (2014); ‘Jeannette Ehlers: Say It Loud’, Nikolaj Kunstahal, Copenhagen, Denmark (2014); ‘Caribbean: Crossroads of the World’, Pérez Art Museum Miami, USA (2014) and El Museo del Barrio, New York, USA (2013); ‘Black Bullets’, Parisian Laundry, Montreal, Canada (2013); ‘Black Europe Body Politics’, BE.BOP 2012 and 2013; ENTER 2011: Ung Dansk Samtidskunst, Kunsthallen Brandts, Odense, Denmark (2011); ‘Subtle Whispering’, Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (2007). More recently, she has performed Whip it Good in Miami and in South Africa. Her work is also held in a number of Danish national and private collections including, The National Museum of Photography and the Danish Arts Foundation.


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