I am an artist based in Stockholm and London. My work often starts with research into social movements and their histories, because what we think we know about the past inevitably shapes what we believe is possible in the future. I am interested in the relationships between gender, power and authority – who claims the right to speak in public and how the ‘rational’ is defined. I attempt to listen to voices that usually go unheard. Recently I have, for instance, been collaborating with grassroots women’s organisations on a project about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, who aimed to establish a model for a new socialist feminist society in one of the poorest areas of the UK. In the resulting artworks, I explore what we can learn today from this early twentieth-century political and educational experiment and some of the problems with how that history has been written.
At the beginning of 2013 I lost my voice, as the result of a virus, and was unable to speak louder than a whisper for a year. This experience profoundly changed my relationship to the act of speaking and led me to collaborate with a voice therapist on a sound piece titled Learning to Speak Sense (2016), which is now in the collection of the Tate Gallery in the UK. A book on my work, titled Rise Early, Be Industrious, was published by Sternberg Press in 2016. It followed a solo show with the same title that toured to MK Gallery in Milton Keyes, Arnolfini in Bristol and CCA in Glasgow, UK. I have also published numerous artist’s books and comics. My drawings, installations, videos and performances have been shown internationality in museums, exhibition spaces and as part of biennales, in addition to which I recently began working in the field of public art. As many of my projects relate to the theme of education, I consider teaching to be an important part of my practice as an artist. I have lectured and run workshops at art schools, universities and community spaces in many different countries. I am represented by Maureen Paley, London.
In the grim context of our present moment, Plender’s research into feminist histories fit to be celebrated and calls to self-organise feel shockingly radical and urgent. —Hettie Judah, Frieze, September 2022
‘Rethinking History’, Olivia Plender interviewed by Laura Guy, Art Monthly No. 460 October 2022
Plender’s practice is consistently questioning, sensitive, and politically vital.
—Tom Jeffreys, e-flux Criticism, November 2022