Tessa Boffin: 1989-1993

11 May - 17 June 2023 New York
Hales is delighted to announce Tessa Boffin: 1989-1993 - an exhibition of three key bodies of work never-before-seen in New York. In the largest solo show of Boffin's work to date, the exhibition spotlights a widely unknown yet influential figure in the history of photography.
Boffin (b.1960 - d. 1993 London, UK) was a pioneering artist and a key organising figure in the UK's photography scene, working between the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Despite a brief oeuvre, Boffin developed a complex body of photographic work which explored gender, sex positivity and societal and political issues referring to AIDS. In staged scenes Boffin championed lesbian visibility and the actualization of queer identity through explorations of fantasy. Boffin had a bold, ground-breaking practice at a time of little visual representation and acknowledgement of queer desire. In imaginative discovery, she deconstructed historical heterosexual role models, combining fact and story to reimagine them. Deftly weaving historical references, critical theory and wit to propose an alternative space of exploration.
Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex (1989) is a five-part fantasy allegory. The work disrupts the idea of lesbian 'purity' in the climate of AIDS. Reimagining Albrecht Durer's 'Melencolia' engraving, Boffin's narrative arc follows a depressed angel who is enlightened by the discovery of safe sex practices. In a black box studio, Boffin sets the scene with an everchanging backdrop image as the story progresses. The angel, having been visited by a clingfilmed lover, rises in ecstasy tethered only by a leather harness.
The Knight's Move (1990) explores the potential of historic representation to open unfulfilled desires. Boffin wrote 'One way we can move forward is by embracing our idealized fantasy figures, by placing ourselves into the great heterosexual narratives of courtly and romantic love: by making the Knight's move - a lateral or sideways leap.'[1] Creating her own heroes, studio shots reimagine historic characters of the Knight, the Knave, the Angel, the Casanova and the Lady-in-Waiting as lesbian protagonists. The opening image in the cemetery sets the scene with scattered photographs recognizing lesbian figures of the past.
The Sailor and the Showgirl (1993) is a photo comic strip, combining references to both porn and fairytale in a tongue in cheek storyline. Here Boffin puts herself in the work as the showgirl - a drag queen in London's Soho, born from a desire to perform identities and sexualities. Her girlfriend at the time, Nerina Ferguson plays the part of a sailor on shore leave. The piece promotes safe sex practices and sex positivity using street language in a camp, cinematic project. The work was made in collaboration with Nerina Ferguson and Denis Doran and commissioned by the Network and Terrence Higgins Trust for the 'Positive Lives: The Response to HIV' exhibition at the Photographers Gallery in 1993.
Boffin gained a BA (Hons) Degree in Photographic Arts (Theory and Practice) from Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster) in 1986 and an MA in Critical Theory from University of Sussex, UK. She was an active part of a community of photographers, curating and featuring in many exhibitions. In 1990 she co-curated the seminal exhibition, Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology with Sunil Gupta and the major touring exhibition Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs in 1991 with Jean Fraser. The accompanying books to those exhibitions remain of critical importance, Ecstatic Antibodies contributed to the understanding of images in the AIDS crisis and Stolen Glances is a guide to lesbian photography of the time. More recently her work has been exhibited in Every Moment Counts - AIDS and its Feelings at Henie Onstad Art Center, Bærum, Norway (2022); The Rebel Dykes Art & Archive Show at Space Station Sixty-Five, London, UK (2021); Hot Moment at Auto Italia South East, London, UK (2020) and Resist: be modern (again) at John Hansard Gallery (Southampton, UK) 2019.

[1] Boffin, T. and Fraser, J. (1991) Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs, London: Pandora Press, p49

Installation Views