The East London art space, Auto Italia, is currently showcasing the exhibition Hot Moment, which depicts the work of three lesbian photographers Tessa Boffin, Ingrid Pollard and Jill Posener. Situated in the sociopolitical context of the eighties–from Section 28's widely protested anti-LGBT law, to civil unrest and widespread homophobia–the artists' work explores some of the many dimensions of lesbian experience in the eighties and nineties.
Curated by art collective Radclyffe Hall (named after the eponymous lesbian writer, whose 1928 book Well of Loneliness was the subject of an obscenity trial for lesbian themes), the exhibition incorporates various media, from the three women’s photographs and prints, to footage of performance and interviews. Hot Moment leaves room for the observer's own interpretations, impressions and experience, while still guiding one through the political and social landscape that Boffin, Pollard and Posener faced through their lenses.
Given that the artists' work was made in a time when Margaret Thatcher's brand of conservatism had Britain firmly in its grip, and the media was rife with negative depictions of homosexuality, Boffin, Pollard and Posener's work stood in opposition to contemporary social messaging, pointing to and supporting both queer community and public engagement.
Each of the three women approached photography differently. Jill Posener was the first named photo editor of San Francisco women-run erotica magazine, On Our Backs, in which she reproduced imagery of theatrical performers from the company Blood Group. Said imagery was familiar scenery for her, as she herself previously had worked for and performed with Britain’s first gay professional theatre company, Gay Sweatshop. Her much-circulated photos of vandalised billboards, a cheeky rebuttal to the sexualisation of women rife in advertising at the time, are reminiscent of the similar images circulated on Twitter during the 2010s elections - some vandalised in real life, some spoofed through clever Photoshop.
As the in-house photographer for Club Sauda, Ingrid Pollard photographed the late night performances that became a creative community for Black women to express themselves through dance, music, poetry, song, and theatre. She also took to the streets to protest for lesbian rights and documented it, as the uproar unfolded.
Tessa Boffin, in her work, turned to satire, through experimental and informative prints. Two works displayed in the Hot Moment space represents FTM crossdressing, and were a reaction to the court case of the 18-year-old Jennifer Saunders, who was convicted and then acquitted for raping two girls while dressed as a boy, a case that was sensationalised in newspaper headlines at the time.
The three women contributed to creating and documenting a sense of belonging, whether for the On Our Backs reader or the queer person searching for community in a heteronormative world. Their work is displayed alongside their contemporaries: in an enlightening interview from 1985, which is displayed through a teleprompter at Auto Italia, civil rights activist Audre Lorde says, 'We don’t come together easily. We come together because if we don’t, we are doomed.'
With Boris Johnson's re-election late last year ushering in a tenth year of Conservative governments, and the Church of England announcing last week that sex belongs only within heterosexual marriage, today's sociopolitical parallels with the eighties feel eerily similar. What can Hot Moment teach us about creating within a similar context?