Olivia Plender

Hold Hold Fire

April 23 –June 12, 2022

Olivia Plender’s work is based on historical research that analyzes pedagogical methods and revolutionary, social, political, and religious movements mainly of the 19th and 20th centuries. Plender finds her resources in institutional archives, as well as in literature and anonymous and popular narratives, using them to make installations, videos, and comics that address the present, intending to unmask and understand current hierarchical structures and social conventions.

Hold Hold Fire is a video work by Plender that was initially inspired by Liberty or Death, a heretofore unknown and unpublished theater play written by activist and artist Sylvia Pankhurst in 1913. Well known for her role in winning women the right to vote, Pankhurst also campaigned against racism and imperialism and helped establish the first communist party in the UK. The forgotten Pankhurst play’s is focused on the East London Federation of Suffragettes and their struggle to win better living and conditions for the working class.

In Hold Hold Fire, the camera follows the actions of a group of contemporary women, as they engage in a self-defense workshop. The group runs through both violent and non-violent self-defense strategies used by feminist activists in the past to combat police violence.

Today the history of the suffragette movement is celebrated in the UK, although back in their time, suffragettes like Pankhurst were viewed as terrorists by the state and the police and treated accordingly. Such political demonization is an experience shared by many contemporary women demonstrating for civil rights and racial justice and who confront the same violence those in power have always deployed against people struggling for human rights.

Image: Olivia Plender, Hold Hold Fire, 2019 (video still). Courtesy of the artist and Maureen Paley, London.

About the artist
Olivia Plender was born in London in 1977 and lives in Stockholm. Her work is manifest in a wide variety of forms: installations, drawings, videos, banners, costumes, performances and comics. Recent solo shows include Practicing Politics: The Fogelstad Women’s Citizenship School 1922–1954, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2019); Many Maids Make Much Noise, ar/ge kunst, Bolzano (2015–16); Rise Early, Be Industrious, which toured to MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; Arnolfini, Bristol and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (all 2012). In 2013, Plender and Reeve joined Emma Chambers to curate an exhibition of artworks by Sylvia Pankhurst at Tate Britain. In 2015, Sternberg Press published the monograph Olivia Plender: Rise Early, Be Industrious.