Rose English

Quadrille

1975, 2013

In Tate Britain

Artist
Rose English born 1950
Medium
21 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper; 2 photographs, C-prints on paper; ink on paper; horse hooves; horse hair; synthetic horse hair; textiles; leather; wood; metal and film, Super 8mm, shown as video, colour
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable. Vitrine only measures: 1035 × 2110 × 1510 mm.
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Tate Members and partial gift from the artist 2016
Reference
T14673

Summary

Quadrille 1975/2013 is an installation comprising a Super 8 mm silent film that documents Rose English’s first full-scale performance art event, together with the costumes worn by the performers and photographic documentation of the event in the form of twenty black and white photographs and three colour photographs. The performance took place in the dressage arena of the Southampton Horse Show in 1975, in front of an audience who were there to watch the equestrian events. The work was commissioned by the Southampton Festival of Performance Art.

The film, which lasts just under eleven minutes, was shot on Super 8 film and has subsequently been transferred to DVD. It begins with footage of a rider on horseback who is clearly a competitor, establishing the equine nature of the event. Several figures then walk into the arena carrying white boxes, which they place onto the ground to form the four corners of a rectangle. Lines of small white horse figurines are subsequently positioned on the ground to form the perimeter of the rectangular space. While the audience watches, six female performers walk into the arena in a line, one behind the other. The six women are dressed to resemble horses in competition: they wear long horsehair tails attached to their waists, high hoof-shoes, apron-style tunics made from horse blankets and white knee-socks and gloves. Stepping over the lines of white toy horses, they enter the makeshift enclosure and begin to ‘trot’ in formation. Carefully choreographed, their movements mimic those of horses in dressage competitions. The performers’ ability to move freely is hampered by the difficulty of walking in the hoof-shoes, and there is a strong sense of self-control and restraint in their performance.

English’s decision to devise a performance for a setting far removed from a typical contemporary art environment is a common strategy in her work. The curator and historian Guy Brett has described the incitement and disruption that was an integral part of the impact of Quadrille: ‘the organiser of the event, a Mrs. Parker, ran in desperation on to the field to try to stop it. Undoubtedly the artist was already touching a secret English nerve. Even a bareback rider would have been a provocation in this atmosphere, and the attire created by the artist for her dancers was clearly beyond the bounds’ (Brett 2014, p.318). The title of the work takes its name from a traditional square dance popular in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and Europe. The film is shown as part of an installation, in which the costumes worn by the performers are displayed neatly arranged side by side on a table adjacent to the film and photographic documentation, each horse tail matched with a pair of horseshoe high heels. Although now inert in the gallery setting, the objects are bought to life by the film and photographs and exert a visceral power.

Quadrille explores the fetishisation of women’s bodies with humour and ambivalence. It was produced at a time when performance and its documentation were being claimed as important territory for feminist art. English was part of a generation of women artists in Britain in the 1970s, which included Rose Finn-Kelcey, Alexis Hunter and Carolee Schneemann, who sought to use the female body to highlight and dismantle oppressive cultural constructs that defined gender roles.

The performers in Quadrille were Joanna Bartholomew, Sally Cranfield, Helen Crocker, Maedée Duprès, Jacky Lansley and Judith Katz.

Further reading
Guy Brett, Abstract Vaudeville: The Work of Rose English, London 2014.

Helen Delaney
July 2015

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

These materials document a performance that took place at the Southampton Horse Show in 1975. The audience, there to watch equestrian events, were taken by surprise by a group of female performers dressed to resemble horses, complete with tails and high hoof-shoes. Carefully choreographed, their movements mimicked the highly controlled routines of horses in dressage competitions. English was part of a generation of women artists in Britain in the 1970s who used performance to highlight and disrupt oppressive gender roles and ideas of class and social hierarchy.

Gallery label, May 2019

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like