Penny Goring’s Emotional Body Horror

LONDON – Though her work is driven by abstract emotions – fear, anger, love and fear – artist Penny Goring constantly finds new ways to bring her kicking and screaming into the physical world. For her first solo exhibition in a public institution penny world at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), the artist creates an emotional landscape that abruptly shifts from tender to violent.

Crossing the line between the personal and the political, there is a sense of darkness in many of Goring’s works: the materials she uses, including ballpoint pens and free software (e.g. Microsoft Paint), are explicitly influenced by the harsh economic realities . This reflects the insecurity and fear that permeate her art: me and mine (2017) is a series she calls “fear objects” — little plush faces with cartoonish features, like “CRY BABY” crying pink tears from black voids. These faces are recurring motifs in her work, as in “Blue Tree Gray” (2016) and “Pyre” (2016). With them, Göring creates a world of complex, often contradictory feelings. In her art, she literally turns the inside out to express feelings of fear or insecurity as a deeply visceral extension of the body. “Amelia Dead Inside Me” (2017), for example, features a mangled, heart-covered body that brings together love and violence, hope and despair.

Penny Goring, I was a Visionary for Boudica (2015), digital collage (courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London)

Just as these emotions alter the physical bodies that Goering brings to the screen, they also have the power to create an alternative world – as if the feelings she radiates into the world have the power to alter it. Anti Raptors (2014), a topless character facing away from the viewer and covered in the text “I DREAM OF ANTI CAPITALIST RAPTORS,” acknowledges the violence and imperfections of the world, yet seeks to change it.

This idea of ​​imperfection is an integral part of Goring’s representations of the body, whether through sculptures that herald these imperfections, such as Wrong Doll (2022) (an inflatable doll with WRONG FACE, WRONG HEART, WRONG FEELING, WRONG LEG that over written on her body and face) or drawings like the mutilated body of “Amelia”. These bodies, often flawed and unsettling, become reservoirs of feelings that are physically difficult to contain. In which Extreme Naked Yoga series, Goring takes the idea of ​​yoga as a means of achieving calm and violently subverts it, evoking emotions that normally lie beneath the surface — repressed by a meditative mantra — through tropes of body horror. Extreme Naked Yoga 3 (2017), which depicts a naked character with eyes open and mouth closed in a grimace, makes violent feelings physical when something strange and shapeless appears between the character’s legs.

The interplay between bodies and emotions in Göring’s work and their transformative potential reveals the politics pumping like blood through the artist’s ever-exposed heart. These bodies must suffer the conditions they must endure: a figure, naked but for shoes, reddened by food coloring, hands on fire burning beneath the text: “My body is devastated and I live in poverty because I never stopped searching for true love”, captures both the horror of the world and the desperate hope of overcoming or escaping it. The question is how long before these things collide and what will happen when they do; for Goering the center cannot and should not exist.

Installation view of Penny World at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (Photo © Anne Tetzlaff)
Penny Goring, “TRULY (ART HELL)” (2019) (Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London)
Penny Goring, Inflatable Dress of Despair (Heart) (1992) (courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London)

penny world continues at the ICA (12 Carlton House Terrace, London, England) until September 18th. The exhibition was curated by Rosalie Doubal.

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