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Carey Young: Appearance

Modern Art Oxford announces the largest institutional show in the UK by Carey Young.

Focusing on the artist’s multi-layered vision of female identity, the exhibition offers timely new perspectives on power, gender and justice. Featuring three major video works, including the ambitious new commission Appearance (2023), as well as related text-based and photographic works, Carey Young: Appearance, runs from 25 March until 2 July 2023.

In the video work Appearance, Young extends her ongoing artistic interest in the law, developed over the past two decades. This wordless, filmic portrait presents fifteen UK female judges - diverse in seniority, age and ethnicity - in their judicial robes looking straight at the camera. With almost forensic close-ups of hair, shoes, jewellery and regalia, the camera plays off the judges’ roles as powerful, self-possessed public intellectuals against their varied physical presence and the quirks of individual personalities. Sitters including Dame Vivien Rose, Justice of the Supreme Court, exhibit a mix of studied neutrality and a complex interiority. Stylistically poised between painting and photography, the piece takes inspiration from Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, which in itself was inspired by the ‘most wanted’ ads of the New York Police Dept. Whilst countering the familiar patriarchal culture of law, Appearance places the viewer in the dock, and centres on ideas of judgement between viewer and judge, on judging as performance, and on the power relations between judge and camera.

Other notable prior works include the critically-acclaimed Palais de Justice (2017), for which Young surreptitiously filmed courtroom trials at Brussels’ labyrinthine main courthouse over a two-year period. Shooting only female judges and lawyers glimpsed through circular windows in courthouse doors, the piece uses a painterly, hallucinatory aesthetic to evoke a legal system controlled by women. The Vision Machine (2020), here receiving its UK debut, develops the approach and aesthetic of Palais de Justice to a concern with women as skilled technicians and often-overlooked creators. Filmed at the factory of SIGMA Corporation, a renowned brand of lenses for photography and video, the piece reflects on the factory and its processes as a metaphor for photography and mass production, suggesting a female-centric vision, or indeed, perhaps a wider visual culture created by women.

Alongside the videos, a selection of Young’s new and existing text and photographic works feature sites including prisons, legal borders and imaginary space, connecting law, architecture, language and the body. One such work, Obsidian Contract (2010), contains a legal contract written backwards and legible within a black mirror, a device associated with witchcraft. The contract proposes the exhibition space as a new area of publicly-owned land, in which certain activities considered illegal in public space at different times, are made permissible. A new series of photographs of brightly coloured prison architecture detail the surfaces of an apparently optimistic environment, and relate the abstractions of law to abstraction in art, referencing Modernist painting in particular.

Exhibition curator Emma Ridgway said, “Young's compelling and intelligently playful work has substantially expanded in scale and ambition in recent years. Her new videos make a valuable contribution to discussions on gender equality, visual perception and the codifications of power. Her latest video work Appearance is a masterclass in the act of seeing, sensitising us to the delights of looking closely at telling details.”


Carey Young will be in conversation with Chief Curator Emma Ridgeway 5–6pm on March 24, followed by an exhibition Preview Party. For more information, please visit Modern Art Oxford's website.