2+2=5

2=2+5 is the title of an exhibition at Not for Sale Gallery in Hackney Wick. The title is a reference to George Orwell's use of the concept in 1984. 'The Party' adopts it as a fundamental tenet of belief to accustomise the people to receiving self evidently false information and eventually believing it. It is a process of social and, ultimately, thought control.

The exhibition explores both censorship in the contemporary arts scene in Britain and some of the beliefs we are expected to adopt no matter how absurd they may be. The artists in the exhibition have the experience of censorship in common but for a variety of different reasons and taking different forms.

The work I am showing is critical of Gender theory and the impact it is having on lesbian lives and on our belief systems. The Gender Creed jug posits gender as a form of social religion or theology by presenting some of its basic tenets in the form of the Apostolic Creed in gender jargon. The Creed is a prayer which Catholics say to declare their faith in the doctrine of the church.

The Butch pot, in the featured image for this post, is a record of the 2019 Lesbian Strength march in Leeds. Lesbian Strength was revived that year to provide lesbians, nationally, with an alternative to the increasingly anti-lesbian and anti-gay 'Pride' march. 'Pride' has become an annual fixture, government funded and corporate sponsored. It is a giant money-making London party for 'everyone' and increasingly hostile to lesbians and gay men who reject trans identified people as potential partners. It is primarily a tourist attraction these days.

The Butch Pot includes the quote from the late Magdalen Berns, 'There's no such thing as lesbian with a penis.' An image of this pot was included in a short presentation I did at a major art institution in 2022 which resulted in the organiser being investigated by HR for 'exposing the audience to dangerous ideas.' This is a classic example of what is meant and the process referred to in the expression, '2+2=5.' It is when a manifestly absurd belief becomes an article of faith and accepted as normal to such an extent that sceptics or non-believers, Gender Aetheists, if you like, are subject to legal sanction. It is a very aggressive form of hounding.

plinths with jugs and plates
gallery view with pots and neons
embroidery

The show also includes my plate, the 'Reverse Voltaire,' which refers to the large numbers of people who are gender sceptics but refuse to say so in public and do their utmost to prevent other from stating their own scepticism. This is a particularly pernicious presence in the arts. Other pots in the show include three attacking the sex trade, one satirising Islamist war mongering and dogma, and one which laments the current state of social sectarianism, intolerance and the refusal to debate.

On the wall in the second image you can see two neons by Con-she artist which satirise identity politics and Critical Race Theory. The latter is a direct, unaltered quote from a training manual which professed to train white workers to become 'less white.' It is a parody but as the artist says, it's one of the few things she can place in a public art space which the curators, for the most part, will accept in all seriousness without a flicker of suspicion that they are, in reality, being trolled. Con-she also showed with Passion for Freedom, 2024, in New York, and is in Vice and Virtue at Ruup & Form London until July 26th.

2+2=5 includes one of Jess de Wahls's most celebrated works, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow Something Went Horribly Wrong.' It was for this piece and the blog post that accompanied it, that she was relentlessly hounded and threatened, leading to the loss of her hair dressing business at Soho Theatre and, therefore, the regular income that sustained her growing embroidery practice.

A couple of years later the Royal Academy shop threw out her products and she was, yet again, hounded online and in real life. By now, however, Maya Forstater had won her case so public awareness had risen a little and the numbers of women worried about the growth of gender theological beliefs had grown enormously. She was able to attract press interest and women organised on twitter to pressurise the RA which duly apologised and Jess's work was reinstated. Jess's embroidery practice is now so successful she has not further need of her hair dressing business. Stephen Kenny, who, with NFS owner/director George Pinnegar, curated the exhibition for NFS Gallery, scored a real coup to get such a symbolic work into 2+2+5.

The exhibition includes some of Stephen Kenny's own work. A collection of his printed posters, made using an old, 20th century letter press, have been pasted up across one wall. They have been presented street style, recreating the feel of a public space in almost any country with an authoritarian government that regularly posts propaganda message in this way or any nation that is in a revolutionary state with competing propaganda statements. Although nation states now mainly use social media and other internet channels to reach a mass audience, the walls of public spaces are still not ignored.

There are a couple of historic works in 2+2=5 giving the contemporary works some context. German artist Johannes Wüsten, (1896-1943,) was a member of the Anti-Fascist Combat League in 1930 and joined the Communist Party in 1932. As Nazism grew and so his art was increasingly perceived as 'degenerate,' and 15 of his works were confiscated from museums around the country.

For artists around the world experiencing exclusion, ostracism, hounding or other kinds of discrimination, as most of the artists in this exhibition have, his is a useful case to study. He was diverse in his practice, including ceramics and writing, print making and painting. He was ultimately accused of 'preparation for high treason' by the Nazi Party and his trial began in 1942. He did not survive the 15 year sentence he received, dying of tuberculosis in 1943, aged 37. He was a prolific and, despite the odds, seems to have been successful in his life time. Only a few of his works survive now though so, again, NFS have done well to secure 2 of them.

Russian dissident artist, Sergei Besov, is another Letterpress worker and collaborates with Stephen Kenny to produce posters for the exhibition. Writer and performer Rebecca Lloyd experienced life under the Greek military junta which has influenced her work, and Ewa Justka, of Heretic Machines, is an electronic musician, a noise artist, who promises to 'deprogram' you with her performances.

The exhibition continues until August 1st 2024 at Not For Sale Gallery, 83 Smeed Road, E3 2NR.