Curator’s Choice – Anya Gallaccio

Posted: 8th October 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Anya Gallaccio

This International Lesbian Day we’re exploring the work of Anya Gallaccio.

Artist Anya Gallaccio uses a variety of diverse materials in her art, including ice, flowers and chocolate. These materials are allowed to decay, melt or grow over the course of the exhibition. Gallaccio often uses digital and industrial technology to set in motion these processes of creation and transformation.

Ferens Art Gallery holds several works by Gallaccio in its permanent collection: a large-format photographic print and two preparatory drawings that record Anya Gallacio’s 1998 artwork, Two Sisters.

Two Sisters is a monumental installation which featured a column of locally hewn chalk mixed with plaster and placed in the Minerva Basin of the Humber Estuary, where it would gradually be eroded by the tides. A team of assistants with heavy-duty machinery were needed to lower the column into the water, creating a scene reminiscent of the dockworkers who laboured to load cargoes throughout Hull’s history as an international port.

Gallaccio was inspired by the sense of change in this location, where coastal erosion is continually redrawing the country’s borders, carrying fragments of the Yorkshire coastline out to sea, where she imagines they may eventually wash up on mainland Europe.

The artwork’s title, Two Sisters, references a Dutch term meaning two similar architectural features placed side by side. The work draws on the shared culture between the city of Hull and the Netherlands, which are connected by their maritime heritage and a modern-day ferry link.

Gallaccio’s Two Sisters was commissioned for Artranspenine98. Billed as Britain’s largest ever outdoor exhibition, over fifty artists from fifteen countries created public art for sites spanning nearly 200 miles between Liverpool and Hull. The exhibition was conceived to create a “shared identity” for a region that has traditionally been viewed as a transit route between Europe and the Atlantic.

As we see with Two Sisters, Gallaccio’s installations often have a strong connection to the place they were made, including in locations in Australia, the USA and Japan. At the same time, Gallaccio intends her artworks to be meaningful for everyone, saying “my aim is to make my work universal, to transcend me”.

For this reason, Gallaccio has resisted being labelled as a “lesbian artist”, describing how women’s work as artists is sometimes devalued by being reduced to the scope of their personal lives.

Gallacio has spoken about how she doesn’t find it helpful when people are put into boxes that can limit the expectations we have of them. Her work One Dozen Red Roses, explored “the idea that love could be reduced and categorised into different types”. In this piece, she addressed stereotypes and clichés around love by allowing 10,000 roses to wither and dry, before grinding them down to make into wax crayons that could be used to create new art.

Gallaccio has questioned whether her sexuality plays a role in her art, saying “I can’t decide whether my work is linked to my sexuality. It could be, in that it’s fluid and unfixed – it doesn’t feel circumscribed in the way rigid ideas of heterosexuality do”.

In 2002, Gallaccio – a UK citizen, met and fell in love with an American woman. Though they had hoped to make a home together in the USA, the couple were confronted with discriminatory immigration rules. Their best chance to be together meant staying in Britain, with Gallaccio’s partner returning to the States every six months for a new tourist visa.
Between 1996 and 2013 in America, the Defence of Marriage Act excluded same-sex couples from wide-ranging rights enjoyed by opposite-sex couples, including the right to a visa for a spouse who was not a US citizen. In Britain, following a decade of campaigning, same-sex couples had won greater rights, but did not achieve full immigration equality until the Civil Partnership Bill came into force in 2005.

Gallaccio has recounted her experience of awkward questioning from border agents, adding, “I am a responsible person with a strong sense of civic duty, so I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that I am a criminal just by trying to be with the person that I love.”

Though telling this personal story risked drawing the spotlight away from her artwork, where it rightly deserved to be, Gallaccio felt she had a “moral duty to stand up and be counted”, and began to advocate for equal immigration rights for LGBTQ+ couples.

Through the campaigning efforts of thousands, LGBTQ+ people are making slow but steady progress towards equal rights. In America the Defence of Marriage Act was overturned in 2013, while Britain welcomed same-sex marriage the same year. In both countries, the organisations that brought about this change are now campaigning to protect those seeking asylum from persecution for their sexuality and gender identity. Without these continuing efforts, LGBTQ+ voices are excluded from telling the universal stories of life, death and love that Anya Gallaccio’s art portrays.

Written by Heritage Assistant, Liz Kay.
Image copyright: © Anya Gallaccio. Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery.

Visit these two preparatory works by Anya Gallaccio, on display in the Pride in Our City exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery until 5 December 2021.

Pride in Our City

This blog was written in celebration of International Lesbian Day 2021 and feeds in to the wider research being undertaken as part of Hull Museums’ ongoing Pride in Our City project. The project aims to increase LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion throughout all of Hull Museums and Ferens Art Gallery’s delivery, from our research and interpretation to our events and programming.

As part of this work we’re continuing to explore the LGBTQ+ narratives within our collections, if you would like to share any contributions with us, please do get in touch at – PrideInOurCity@gmail.com

To find out more about the Pride in Our City Project and how to get involved, please visit the project page here – http://humbermuseums.com/projects/pride-city-project-2/

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