«Hysteria, as the word suggests, was originally thought to emanate from the uterus and so was considered a specifically female malady. It is a condition that can, of course, overtake both genders, but tends to be associated with less sophisticated subjects and highly constrained, authoritarian contexts. In medieval times certain symptoms of hysteria (such as the loss of bodily sensation) were seen as direct proof of a witch. 19th century medicine constructed a complex hegemonic pathology around hysteria. In the 20th Century it was a phenomenon associated with Hitlerian oratory and Beatle-mania.
Madness in general and hysteria in particular are the subject of Sarah-Mace Dennis’ works in this exhibition. While the artist draws on many of the theoretical ideas that arose from the deconstruction of the power plays of illness by postmodernism, she does not present a conventional feminist analysis. Her images evoke the frustration and anxiety which one can imagine triggering a hysterical episode – as the individual’s subconscious secretes a shell of symptoms in abrogation of personal responsibility – but this vulnerability is set in a soft nostalgic light, warm and diffuse. The expressive poses and haunted eyes suggest the romantic abjection of a Pre-Raphaelite heroine. A moral object lesion wrapped in an erotic cipher. The paradoxical sensibilities at play in the work are heightened by the use of photomedia, which carries the tenacious aftertaste of veracity long after it has been digested as visual fiction. I am reminded of the immersive tragedy of high opera. But then, the best operas, though themselves fictions, reach through the imaginary to touch on the truths of the human condition. Here it is best not to analyze the facts of the image so much as sense the affect.»
Alasdair Foster, from his catalogue essay Departure Lounge