Rose English

The Eros of Understanding

19 sep – 28 dec 2014

The British artist Rose English (b. 1950) began her work as an artist in an age where cross-pollination between different artistic disciplines was neither widely known nor encouraged. As a student she found herself expelled from two art academies for working with performance art, which was regarded as the specific province of theatre. However, a general blurring of categories had already been set in motion, and in 1973 English graduated from the rather more progressive Fine Art Department of Leeds Polytechnic, which gave her the opportunity to create performance art and to cut across established artistic categories.

Drawing on conceptual art and dance, Rose English’ practice emerged in the feminist and performance art scenes in 1970s London. She explores metaphysical issues and discusses themes such as identity, gender politics, and the role of the artist. English operates in a field where many different art forms intersect, appearing in contexts and disguises that combine performance and installation art, theatre, dance, and film. She acts as hostess, entertainer, and philosopher in her performances, thereby transforming the stage into a space for thought and reflection.

During the 1970s and 1980s English was a prominent voice within London’s feminist movement and underground scene. Together with film director Sally Potter and composer Lindsay Cooper she created the groundbreaking feminist feature film The Gold Diggers (1983); all the crew working on the film were women, and all were paid the same salary. In the 1990s she collaborated with a range of legendary fashion designers, including Mr. Pearl, who is particularly famous for his corsets and has dressed celebrities such as pop star Kylie Minogue, burlesque artist Dita von Teese, and top model Jerry Hall. English herself has appeared as an actor in experimental and mainstream film alike.

The Eros of Understanding presents a wide selection of Rose English’s work from the last 40 years, combining visual art with theatre, circus, opera, and poetry. One of the recurring figures in English’s composite oeuvre is the horse. The culture surrounding riding and equestrian sports has fascinated English for decades, and the horse appears as a figure, main character, and performer in many of her works. This exhibition activates the artist’s own archives and sees her deconstructing iconic props and objects from previous performances. She also directly addresses the fleeting, ephemeral qualities inherent in performance art, playing with a range of different manifestations of presence and absence – of artist and horse – through the three exhibition rooms.

This is the first time ever that English’s extremely eclectic and extensive range of work is brought together and exhibited at an art institution. The exhibition is shaped by Rose English’s reflections on the stage, the performer, the audience, and the notion of ‘the big show’. The Eros of Understanding brings together a range of central works in the form of videos, photographs, and props as well as vignettes, ephemera, costumes, notebooks, and storyboards.

The exhibition is curated by Stine Hebert.

The exhibition is supported by the Danish Arts Foundation,  A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine MC-Kinne Møllers Fond til almene formaal, Aage and Johanne Louis-Hansens Foundation and Richard Saltoun & Karsten Schubert, London.



Rose English was born in Hereford in 1950. She graduated from the Fine Art Department of Leeds Polytechnic in 1973, subsequently to being expelled from another art school for working with performance. English was an important voice in London’s feminist movement and underground scene in the 1970s and during the 1980’s and 1990’s worked with designers including Simon Vincenzi and haute couture corsetier Mr Pearl. She collaborated with film maker Sally Potter and composer Lindsay Cooper creating the seminal feature length film The Gold Diggers (1983) and has appeared in both experimental and mainstream films. She was included in the influential exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2009) at MOCA in Los Angeles, and has exhibited in venues as various as Tate Britain, Royal Court, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Adelaide Festival and Lincoln Center off Broadway in New York. Her performances have featured a diversity of co-performers including musicians, dancers, circus performers, magicians and horses.