Show me your ‘Smalls’


Words: Nicci Talbot

I went to see Jenny Edbrooke’s latest show ‘Smalls’ at Coastal Currents arts festival last weekend. Jenny is a Hastings-based performance artist whose work explores the female body. She was wearing a voluminous skirt made of bras and knickers and there were four pairs of legs poking out from beneath, listening to an audio recording about the history and psychology of underwear. Stitched onto the bras were various indignant messages that made me laugh: ‘I don’t want to discuss my gusset stains with you. Sorry.’

Her work has been described as ‘a winning fusion of bawdy humour, live art and new age feminism.’ ‘Smalls’ is light-hearted and fun on the surface yet explores subjects that can be uncomfortable to talk about – issues with sex, menstruation, and body image. Her postcard strapline is ‘Try wearing no underwear for a day’. Why not? It’s cheeky but it keeps your mind focused on sensation and it does awaken your bits so to speak. Putting on your smalls should be a delight rather than a habit and studies show 70% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.

‘Smalls’ is Jenny’s first collaborative piece. She worked with textile artist Simon Young, theatre design graduate Ruby Antonowicz-Behnan, prop maker Peter Quinnell and sound artist Ollie Finn so it must have been great fun as a process. The undergarments were donated by local women of all ages from a secondary school, a new mothers’ group, and a residential home and the variety of styles and colours reflects this.

Jenny likes to delve into personal histories; taboos and things that make her feel uncomfortable with the aim of making us feel less alone. ‘My aim is to unite and entertain people while continuing my quest of making sense of the world in which we live – a task both for myself and for anyone who engages with the work,’ she says. ‘Undergarments, the covering for our most intimate parts, can be used as objects to explore our relationship with ourselves and, more interestingly, our relationships with other people and a wider society’.  Her motivation is a view of how media has impacted on our social and personal behaviour. ‘Things are breaking down, becoming introvert, increasingly self-destructive and self-absorbed, and there is a lack of respect and discipline. As this planet gets more and more populated and changes, so we too need to change with it if we are to successfully thrive as a functional civilisation.’

Jenny’s previous works on a similar theme include ‘The Sexy Project’ and ‘Acts of Boobiness’. Her next show will explore taboos around menstruation.

See ‘Smalls’ on tour at Zu Studios in Lewes this weekend.
Coastal Currents Visual Arts Festival, Hastings runs from 27th August – 30th September 2011.

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