Max Mara Art Prize for Women: Emma Talbot
30 June – 4 September 2022
Emma Talbot (b.1969), winner of the eighth edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, premieres a new body of work at Whitechapel Gallery in June. The Age/L’Età comprises animation, free-hanging painted silk panels, three-dimensional work and drawings. The new work explores themes of representation and ageing, power and governance, and attitudes towards nature. For the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Talbot imagines a future environment where humankind encounters the disastrous consequences of late capitalism and must look towards more ancient and holistic ways of crafting and belonging – that rethink ancient power structures and celebrate the natural world – in order to survive.
The exhibition is the result of a bespoke six-month Italian residency, organised by Collezione Maramotti. Following receipt of the prestigious biannual prize in 2020, Talbot travelled through Reggio Emilia, Catania and Rome, researching textile craftmanship, permaculture, classical mythology and exploring the myriad historic sites and institutions that inform the new body of work. The Age/L’Età takes Gustav Klimt’s painting Three Ages of Woman (1905), which Talbot had the opportunity to see first-hand during her residency, as its starting point. Klimt depicts an elderly woman holding her head in an expression of apparent shame. In her new work, Talbot reimagines this elderly figure as a woman with agency.
Talbot taught herself animation during lockdown when she was unable to go to her studio and a 12-chapter animation, in which Talbot’s protagonist must overcome a series of trials similar to The Twelve Labours of Hercules, is central to the exhibition. During her residency in Rome, Talbot investigated their depictions on ancient Etruscan ceramics, powerful conveyors of classical mythology, with Valentino Nizzo, Director of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. Rather than overcoming the trials through destruction, theft, deceit and murder (as did Hercules), the protagonist employs productive, care-centred and practical solutions, inspired by the 12 principles of permaculture, a practice which offers an ethical, sustainable way of living with the land. Through her modern-day trials, the protagonist has the potential to reconstruct contemporary society, countering prevalent negative attitudes to ageing, power and the climate crisis. Also on display is a selection of Talbot’s original drawings for the animations.
The Age/L’Età also features two large-scale hanging silk works, hand-painted to depict near-future volatile landscapes of ruins and volcanic terrain which the central figure explores and inhabits. As with much of her work, Talbot has inscribed the silk with text addressing the themes of the show and invites viewers to question their own perceptions head-on. The subject matter of the silk works is informed by Talbot’s trips across Sicily, where she explored the volcanic landscape, ancient ruins, and studied the principles of permaculture at the Casa di Paglia Felcerossa. On the occasion of a collateral visit to Como she learnt about practices of silk recycling with Mantero Seta, the first Italian company to produce 100% recycled silk. Talbot’s incorporation of recycled fabrics and use of sustainable resources within her practice imbues the work with questions about life cycles, renewal and agelessness.
The final element of The Age/L’Età is a physical manifestation of the central elderly figure, in the form of a life-size sculpture made from stuffed soft fabrics. Materials designed by the artist in collaboration with IMAX Max Mara’s knitwear division were used to create the figure’s thick elderly outer skin, which resembles wrinkles and armour. Inspired by depictions of Hercules and scenes found on ancient Etruscan pottery, Talbot’s figure reaches towards the centre of a portal or net, produced by the artist in collaboration with Modateca Deanna, one of the most important Italian knitwear archives, through which she appears to approach a new world, alternative energies and a new way of being.
The Max Mara Art Prize for Women is a collaboration between Whitechapel Gallery, Max Mara and Collezione Maramotti and has been awarded in alternate years since 2005 to support UK-based female-identifying artists who have not previously had a solo survey exhibition. Known for launching the careers of artists, it is the only visual art prize of its kind in the UK. The previous winners of the prize are Helen Cammock, Emma Hart, Corin Sworn, Laure Prouvost, Andrea Büttner, Hannah Rickards and Margaret Salmon. The judging panel for the eighth Max Mara Art Prize for Women was chaired by Iwona Blazwick OBE, outgoing Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, joined by a panel of art world experts comprising gallerist Florence Ingleby, artist Chantal Joffe, collector Fatima Maleki and art critic Hettie Judah.
A short documentary about Talbot’s experience during her six-month Italian residency will be released on the occasion of the exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Following its presentation at Whitechapel Gallery, The Age/L’Età will travel to Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy (23 October 2022 – 19 February 2023.)
Talbot has also been selected for The Milk of Dreams at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemani, which is on until 27 November 2022.
Notes to editors:
o Helen Cammock (2017 – 19) – Cammock (b. 1970) presented a film, a series of vinyl cut prints, a screenprinted frieze and an artist’s book interweaving women’s stories of loss and resilience with seventeenth-century Baroque music by female composers, exploring the concept of lament in women’s lives across histories and geographies in her exhibition Che si può fare. Since winning the Max Mara Art Prize for Women she was awarded the Turner Prize 2019 together with Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani.
o Emma Hart (2015 – 17) – Hart’s (b. 1974) large-scale installation Mamma Mia! (2016) consists of a family of large ceramic heads, whose interior space is filled with vivid patterns, designed and hand-painted by Hart after researching the designs and practice of the Italian tradition of maiolica pottery. This project represents the culmination of an investigation into pattern, from visual patterns to patterns of psychological behaviour.
o Corin Sworn (2013 – 15) – Sworn (b.1976) created a work drawing from the Commedia dell’Arte improvised plays originating in 16th century Italy, where they continue to be of great cultural importance. Her installation titled Silent Sticks consists in a dramatic stage set with props, costumes, sound and video elements. She was awarded the Leverhulme Prize 2015 which recognises the achievement of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future carrier is exceptionally promising.
o Laure Prouvost (2011 – 13) – Prouvost created an ambitious large-scale installation for her Max Mara Art Prize exhibition Farfromwords, inspired by the aesthetic and sensuous pleasures of Italy and plays on the historic idea of visiting the Mediterranean for inspiration. In 2013 she was awarded the Turner Prize. Her project Deep See Blue Surrounding You was presented in the French pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.
o Andrea Büttner (2009 – 11) – Büttner’s The Poverty of Riches explored the intersection of religion, art and the condition of the artist in the contemporary world. Including woodcuts, cloths, photographs and objects she transformed the exhibition space into a space of contemplation. Part of her project was included in the Whitechapel Gallery’s landmark exhibition Adventures of the Black Square in 2015.
o Hannah Rickards (2007 – 09) – The prize enabled Rickards to realise No, there was no red., an ambitious two-screen film she had been researching before winning the Prize. She was also awarded the Leverhulme Prize in 2015 and had a major exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2014.
o Margaret Salmon (2005 – 07) – Salmon travelled to Italy and created Ninna Nanna, a triptych of black and white films exploring themes of motherhood. She went on to exhibit at the Venice Biennale in 2007.
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