The Art of Survival by Penny Goring

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‘Penny World’, artist and poet Penny Goring’s first solo institutional exhibition, is her testimony to how she survived a hellish existence through creation. This is a romantic idea, but one that Goring fully embodies, having overcome personal trauma, poverty, and mental illness through 30 years of compulsive artistic creation. Entering Goring’s world is like entering the depths of her brain; there is a feeling that she produced this work to be viewed in private.

Penny Goring, Dust Doll, 2019 fabric sculpture Photo: Tim Bowditch.  Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London
Penny Goring, dust doll, 2019, fabric sculpture. Courtesy: the artist and Arcadia Missa, London; Cinematography: Tim Bowditch

The main wall of the ground-floor gallery is covered with Goring’s ‘Image Macros’ (2013–22), Microsoft Paint collages that initially existed online but here are blown up to wall-sized proportions. In dethbone (2014), Goring coldly stares at the viewer with the fierce words ‘I FUK DEATH WIV MY LOVE BONE’ on his chest. Through digital artwork, poetry, and GIFs, Goring established himself in the alternative scene of the 2010s. His Tumblr page contains streams of untamed language, cigarette-wielding webcam selfies, and drawings of contorted women. bleeding, shitting and masturbating.

Göring’s sharp charisma pervades this entire work. for example in Fear (2013), one of two lo-fi video poems, erratically lists her phobias: “I’m afraid of hip replacement… I’m afraid of people.” while in please make me love you (2014), she deadpans: ‘I love you like my mother’s dead uncle… I love you like God’s luxury omni-cock… I love you like dim hahaha.’ The humor functions more as a psychological antidote to the often painful and vulnerable subject of her. The introduction of the artist’s voice livens up the work and is an excellent addition to the show. Curator Rosalie Doubal’s decision to include him in just these videos leaves me wanting more.

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Penny Goring, Inflatable Dress of Despair (Heart), 1992, acrylic paint on paper. Courtesy: the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

There is no sense of time in this world. Goring draws on perennial themes such as systemic violence, lack of access to affordable therapy, and the UK’s cost of living crisis. His work parallels that of Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse: Bourgeois’ textile figurines, such as single me (1996), are clear ancestors of Goring’s hand-sewn Spandex dolls; while in a 2017 interview with IDGöring cited Hesse’s experimentations with loss as a touchstone. blue killer doll (2022) is shown resting with severed head on hip, scarred limbs outstretched; pain wrist (2019) sheds black stamens from her chest, forming a delicate, dark, velvety flower. Goring’s dolls are vulnerable and comforting despite their emotional charges; embody what Bourgeois described in Christiane Meyer-Thoss’s Free fall design (1992) as ‘the art of holding on’.

An unmistakable sense of thoughtfulness runs through ‘Penny World’, right down to the hand-drawn exhibition map-poster. In Emotive title (Super virile hyperdeath virus targeting you-know-who) (2017), a kneeling ‘Amelia’, Goring’s alter ego and former lover, cries rainbow tears in the middle of a puddle of shit, cradling a severed leg. The work undoubtedly depicts violence, but it also suggests empathy for the turmoil it illustrates.

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Penny Goring, I was a visionary for Boudica, 2015, digital collage. Courtesy: the artist and Arcadia Missa, London

As author Chris Kraus wrote in i love dick (1997): ‘The mere fact that women speak, are paradoxical, inexplicable, flippant, self-destructive but above all public, is the most revolutionary thing in the world’. Goring knows this and exists in this irrepressible lineage of women artists and writers. That is why it has never been an option for her to compromise in the face of accepting the art world or anyone else’s opinions other than her own. ‘Penny World’ is undeniably a painful place, but it is unabashed in its emotion, irresistibly in itself.

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Penny Goring’s’penny world‘ is at ICA, London, until September 18.

Featured Image: Penny Goring, dim jaw (detail), 1995, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London