When Jove asserted that it was women who get more pleasure out of love, it fell to Tiresias to adjudicate. His occasional habit of unprovoked snake-bashing had transformed him for seven years into a woman and then back again, making him the natural choice. Striking him blind, Juno’s umbrage (‘out’ the story tells us, ‘of all proportion’) is aroused less from having lost the wager than because Tiresias confirmed the assumption that justifies all the randy sociopaths of classical legend and their successors in the Western canon—that, for all their protestations to the contrary, women are simply playing hard to get.
This is the edifice at which the exhibition and its eponymous film teases. By re-centring personal agency in narratives of pleasure, it makes the compelling case that if these cultural histories cannot be evaded entirely, the objectifying moral gaze that regularly attends them can be supplanted by a different language of seeing and being-seen familiar to the queer and marginalised as they move through public space.
Williams’ work has frequently tasked its objects to spectacles of consumption and excess, describing her role as creating a ‘shell for things to be enacted in’; candied, cultic, vaguely crustacean, ceramic forms act as vanity mirrors or elsewhere suggest a rock-pool or discarded shoe. A series of drawings depict bodies of varying porousness, where limbs emerge from, melt and reinsert their surroundings.
Dotted around the draped interiors and plush seating of Mimosa House, these discontinuous beings recall elements of 2017’s Ceremony of the Void, a performance of feasting that descended into bacchanalian food fight, in setting out spaces that seem to exist either in the anticipation of event or its neatened-up aftermath. The action seems always to be elsewhere. FOMO hangs in the air like perfume.
Sunday Fantasy plays in a darkened annexe, its mirrored floor doubling and distorting the images, an Ovidian trap, if there ever was one, for the unwary voyeur. Matter-of-fact voices guide us through the fantasies of its participants. Hands knead a body. Two women playfully struggle to undress a third, who is uncertain if she wants them to succeed. Eels open out a submerged stocking. with the same fluid wriggling as a pair of gloved hands wrapping around a neck from the back seat of a BMW. A stream of urine hits a prone figure wearing a raincoat. Another fills a by now recognisable ceramic vessel. The sloshing of small brandy glasses becomes suddenly ambiguous.
These monologues assert the oral tradition as a quasi-mystic, quasi-therapeutic negotiation, one capable of sublimating the raw matter of passion into fantasy by as many degrees as needed. But if these weavings of the erotic interior through Bermondsey warehouse, Dungeness shrub and Kentish surf occasionally make for unsettling viewing, some of this strangeness stems from received assumptions that vicarious pleasure is necessarily one that is directed towards us.
In a recent essay for the ICA on contemporary queer writing, Isabel Waidner proposes that, ‘…seaside towns loom mythological in the British psyche… containing Tory reality and holiday fantasy in one body.’ Waidner’s contention seems to be that the contradictory character of certain environments—a nostalgic beach resort that is simultaneously a hostile barrier to migrants, for example—emerges as such through the accretion of personal significance in the structures of public space, commingling potentials for oppression and generation, though perhaps not in equal measure. Even Piccadilly, where Mimosa House is located was, up until the mid 20th century, a notorious site for cruising and queer transgression, provisional histories that have since been overwritten by capital or retained only as snippets of travel guide colour.
Sunday Fantasy presents the absence of moral judgment as an active mode of resistance to the entrenched attitudes and spittle-flecked comment sections insisting that the erotic is nothing more than pornography, while also expressing confusion that it has failed to turn them on. Williams and her collaborators instead follow the internal logic that mingles personal fantasy with collective myth-making in seeking to transmute and dissolve the strict form of their surroundings rather than integrate them.
As the credits roll, Williams’ own character Malaise walks away from us, towards Reculver. A Roman-fortress-cum-Saxon-monastery-cum-Anglican-Church-cum-National Heritage folly, it is as good an example as any that even the monumental is not set in stone. Looking towards its towers perched on the edge of the land it is clear that the bluff is eroding, and that we are faced with a vast, fluid prospect.
Ari Níelsson is an artist and writer based in London
Zoe Williams worked with her friends and collaborators Amy Gwatkin, Deniz Ünal and Nadja Voorham on the construction of the film, inviting them to enact their own and each other’s fantasies in it. The film is co-directed by filmmaker Amy Gwatkin, with a soundtrack by musician David Aird.