Lisa Scantlebury’s ‘Many Long Slow Waits’ hovers, suspended above our heads in the heights of the RWAs Victorian ceilings, drawing the eye to the reproduction of the Parthenon frieze, so laden with the classic and classical alpha male preoccupations of war and domination.

The contrast seems to provide a wry and ironic context for Scantlebury’s ‘raincoats’ - at once ethereal in their floating transparency, yet calling to mind harried-school-run-mum practicality with their quirky rainbow trims. “Off you go to war, flexing your Greek God bod, whilst I go pick up the kids in the rain. Again.”

The semblance of garment with practical overtones - ‘one size fits all’ - suggests that this is an anonymous, standard fate. You will fit yourself to the garment, not the other way around.

The work’s title - “Many Long Slow Waits” - also calls to mind a kind of repetitive domestic drudgery of routine; and there is something irrefutably female about the implications this work invokes.

Both the title and the work recalled to mind Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’ - sloughed off skins, floating, disembodied, anonymous. Are they abandoned by those who once had a use for them? Or are they eerily waiting for unwitting new wearers, drawn by their shiny newness and colourful details, that initially distract from the more sinister, connotations of suffocation and entrapment inherent in the material used.

It’s a piece that left me thinking about societal constructs and gender roles: what we choose to put on willingly, and what we find ourselves wearing one day, not having realised it would prove so hard to take off.

Lisa Scantlebury’s ‘Many Long Slow Waits’ will be on show at ‘Open 167’ at the RWA Bristol, until 1st December.

Mellony Taper
October 2019.