What?! How is it that I have never heard of Penny Slinger? Well, of course I know why and its the age-old, wearing, depressing and frankly dull reason that so many extraordinary women remain in the shadows. It makes everyone sigh, shrug, ‘tsk’ and hope the conversation moves on quickly. And yes I will move on quickly because I can’t even be bothered to discuss it. Too glorious is this woman, too transcendent, too magnificent, too beautiful, too spiritual, too erotic, too courageous, too way out of her time and place, too prophetic to be cut down by the casual cruelty that crushes female creativity, amongst other things. Were I to have seen her art without the context of this documentary I would have said, ‘What fresh, joyous, magnificence is this?’ imagining perhaps a love child of Jeff Koons and Sara Lucas (such is the prolific nepotism in the art world only pedigrees appear to be able to act, sing, paint – that’s another story). Anyhoo, I would not have rustled up a young, working class woman from Streatham, south London at art college in the late 1960’s coming up with proto-punk, nihilistic, feminist, surreal, erotic collage, films, drawings, paintings and sculptures using her bisexual self as her own muse. Imagine! A woman celebrating and exploring herself but not with any hint of narcissism, just the pragmatic compassion of not wanting anyone to do what she wouldn’t herself and there was nothing she wouldn’t do herself to explore and expose every part of her humanity. Come and see!
Her work was brilliant, challenging, painstaking and was indeed acclaimed at the time but as her ex-partner filmmaker Peter Whitehead stingingly recalled, ‘she was a powerful, little lady.’ Another of the talking heads filmmakers Jack Bond recalls the theatre group she formed with equally criminally uncelebrated filmmaker Jane Arden as full of petty jealousies and squabbles but somehow ‘they managed to pull it off’. For me these seemingly inoccuous statements, made by both men whilst making this film, sums up the thinking behind the everyday sexism that undermined and finally overwhelmed Penny Slinger and that is still so pernicious and pervasive in dealing with female artists today.
The documentary itself is beautifully made reminiscent of the very best of The South Bank Show from the 80s, its colour palette and fonts are era evocative, with an Asif Kapadia sensitivity and a superb industrial, experimental soundtrack provided by the Psychological Strategy Board. Are they for real?Find your cinema and book tickets