After reading a piece on The Fourdrinier related to the work in this show my expectations of Megan Powell – Get Stabbed and Boogie were that it would be serious; the “Boogie” part of the title overshadowed by the lead of “Get Stabbed”. Megan Powell’s body of work presents a narrative of survival following an attempted murder, when she was stabbed in the face by a group of men. The photographs and collages in the exhibition document Powell’s defiant recovery. To my surprise, in spite of the seriousness of the inciting incident, the show oozes a Kippenberger-like dark humour. The combination of the different subjects suggests the surrealism of the everyday where life-changing dramas mix with the need to document one’s existence through a selfie; here Powell’s carefully composed images are presented in an intimate room complete with spinning disco light.
The show has an endearing DIY aesthetic with different sized prints attached to the wall in utilitarian ways. It is an exhibition about confronting something really horrible and serious and turning it into something playful and empowering. I think the work presented in this context speaks to how time spent engaging with difficult topics through your art practice can be a great healer. Powell has produced a Spotify playlist to accompany the exhibition; the disco songs included take on new meaning in this context – Don’t Leave Me This Way. ‘Get Stabbed and Boogie (Banner)’ (2018) is the largest work in the show and represents a confrontational Powell; face bandaged staring down the viewer. Elsewhere we see images of Powell dancing resplendent with her face bandaged seemingly not caring what the viewer thinks. It’s as if Powell is taking Barthes’ The Death of the Author literally.
There is a wide variety of imagery on show presented at different scales. Not all of it directly links to the title of the show but through the juxtaposition in the space narratives emerge. Religion is touched on but through the filter of the ever-present disco light. I was particularly taken by ‘Lips’ (2018) which toys with the simultaneous resemblance to multiple things sexual and violent. The slick composition and lighting of this image in my mind conjures up similar dualities to Mat Collishaw’s infamous ‘Bullet Hole’ (1988).
In the rich history of artists’ making work based on their life experience, making work on your own attempted murder could lead into some pretty cliché work. Luckily Powell’s installation transforms the aftermath of this shocking incident into a novel and charming exhibition. In doggedly revisiting this trauma and finding some positive angle reflecting on the experience Powell must be commended, she makes the personal political. It would be easy to hide this experience, but by scrutinising and parodying it Powell is able to take something extremely private and turn it into something universal.
Andee Collard is an artist, educator and co-founder of Bolton Contemporary, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing inclusive contemporary visual art to the people of Bolton.
Megan Powell – Get Stabbed and Boogie, PAPER Gallery, Manchester.
5 January – 9 February 2019.