I saw Eileen Agar’s Angel of Anarchy in the cloth, as it were, several years ago at a Surrealist exhibition in London. It’s a very disturbing object, which seems to reveal what it covers up, and yet we don’t know what it’s covering up. It radiates all sorts of mixed messages. Is that a bandage round the neck, with Frankenstein connotations? But the fabric and feathers round the face are beautiful. Is there a deception going on here? If so, it’s a beautiful, tantalizing deception, with dangerous possibilities if you pursue the quest.
Made between 1936 and 1940, it’s impossible to ignore the historical context – the competing ideologies of Fascism and Communism – with their comforting certainties and sense of group identification. Perhaps it’s a warning against that enticing allure, and the bandages round the neck go all the way up to the top of its head. We know with hindsight what’s underneath them.
I don’t know, and this is what art should do – pull the ground out from under your feet so you don’t know what you’re looking at. Scatter the labels so there’s no neat definition and summary. Make the viewer complicit in the interpretation.
A video of some of her other work.