Alicia Radage: ‘I Have Hundreds of Ears, Tongues, Fingers, Nipples and Breasts’

We met with the artist in her exhibition at London's Pictorum Gallery to discuss how the body shapes her perception of the world

BY Ivana Cholakova AND Alicia Radage in Interviews | 08 FEB 24

With its overindulgent festivities and short-lived New Year promises of abstention, the holiday season is officially behind us. We return reluctantly to the grey mundanity of a generic London winter. To those stubborn souls who refuse to surrender to an eremitic February existence I offer refuge in Alicia Radage’s latest exhibition, ‘Dream of the Mother Language’, currently on view at Pictorum Gallery. A vision in pink, this futuristic dreamscape is not afraid of tapping into the uncanny, with surreal sculptures of mutated body parts that skilfully blur the boundaries between humans and nature, hinting at the primordial knowledge stored in our subconsciousness.  

I met with the artist last week for an animated discussion. We touched on her desire to portray female resilience, her affinity with mythological narratives and her experimentation with physical theatricality.  

This interview is part of a new series of London gallery visits, where I drop in on an artist to discuss the main themes behind their latest exhibition and artistic processes. 

Alicia Radage, Spectre Bleached, 2016, photograph on giclée, 36.7 × 55 cm. Courtesy: the artist 

Ivana Cholakova What was the starting point for ‘Dream of the Mother Language’?  

Alicia Radage I wanted the title to be ambiguous. It purposefully remains unclear whether it is an instruction or a noun. Am I asking people to dream of the mother language or stating that the exhibition is the dream itself? Are we talking about the personal maternal experience or the universally shared one with Mother Earth? The show positions language and knowledge in a cycle of remembering and forgetting. For me, dreaming can be a manifestation of the collective subconscious. When it comes to ancient information, nothing is ever lost. 

IC Your practice often addresses our estrangement from nature through photography. What drew you to the medium? 

AR My early work was motivated by my complicated relationship with visibility, the desire and fear of being perceived. Like Francesca Woodman, one of my greatest heroes, I was thinking about my own body and its connections with the natural world. In 2016, I produced a photo series called ‘Spectre’ with just a dust sheet and me in an abandoned building. The project showed the almost ghostly relationship between my body and man-made structures, with this creeping sense of nature coming in and taking over.  

What I love about capturing a performance for the camera is that you create this moment in history. Who knows what this building looks like now. Has it totally disintegrated? My body has changed too – everything about that scene has changed – but the moment prevails.  

Alicia Radage, MOTHER BENT, 2022–24, mahogany, brass, silicone, chipbark. Courtesy: the artist 

IC The exhibition’s womb-like environment is populated with numerous sculptures of female body parts. Can you touch on your relationship with the corporeal? 

AR I come from a performance art background; my body is the lens through which I understand the world. I often think about how I can use it to make a connection with what lies beyond physicality. MOTHER BENT [2022–24] originated as a commission for the Whitstable Biennale in 2022. All the silicon and brass sculptures are moulds of my own body. I have hundreds of ears, tongues, fingers, nipples and breasts. The installation originally incorporated 75 sculptures, some small, others three metres tall, curling over you in this primordial forest-scape, transforming the room into an enveloping environment of human flora. 

These plant-like structures question the myth of human supremacy. They ridicule our narcissism – how we constantly clear space for ourselves and drive other species to extinction. What happens when a foxglove’s flower is replaced with a human tongue? Now and then, I would include a lobster claw. There is a starkness to the sculptures, but they are also beautiful and fun. People have very mixed reactions to them: some find affinity with our shared humanity, while others feel like they’ve entered a nightmare graveyard. My work is not didactic; it’s a dialectic – a conversation or questioning. I’m trying to find answers through my practice, some of which may be contradictory.  

Alicia Radage, Soft Shield (I’ll Settle Here Tonight)​, 2023, silicone, fake hair, oak midribs, 102 × 40 cm. Courtesy: the artist 

IC Mythological and ancient themes are consistently present in your practice. What aspects of these stories resonates with you? 

AR There’s something very instinctive about mythological narratives. They are governed by universal moral codes and yet offer a multiplicity of meanings. I’m particularly interested in Nordic folklore. Soft Shield (I’ll Settle Here Tonight) [2023] was a response to the sagas of the Viking Shield Maidens, some of the most heroic female warriors. With our bodies often being treated as a resource by the patriarchy, women have learned to grow a thick skin. I wanted to depict this relationship between vulnerability and strength by building a layered silicone cast of my torso as armour. A sentence made from dried oak leaves is etched across the lower abdomen. It reads, ‘I’ll settle here tonight.’, written backwards as if from deep within. The writing contains a bit of horror, the idea of something inside clawing out, but it is also beautiful and delicate. I purposefully used oak, an ancient material symbolic of wisdom. There is so much potential within the womb, it contains both past and future narratives. This leads me to believe that time isn’t linear. Chronology is a way we frame the world in order to make it more digestible.  

IC How does the material you use contribute to the interpretation of your work? 

AR In this show I work with silicon, copper, bronze, 3D printed PLA, mahogany and brass. To bring them all together in the space is to gain an insight into my inner psyche. I wanted to investigate the different ways in which women are portrayed. My three hand-beaten copper breastplates are slightly larger than a human body. They exist as individuals as well as a trinity: Maiden, Mother and Crone. I made Always [2023] first. Her swollen stomach is patinated, and I left the copper unwaxed, hinting at the feminine creative potential. In Vipers Bursting [2023], the cosmic serpent is positioned over the ovaries. Two snakes, mimicking DNA strands and ancestral knowledge, slither into the duplicitous symbolism of the temptress in the original sin. Elsewhere Fierce Dance [2023], my most dynamic sculpture, moves between jumping and landing. There was something simultaneously finished and in motion about her; she didn’t need anything else from me. Copper worked great as a metaphor for the female body: it is both resilient yet soft and malleable.

Alicia Radage, Fierce Dance, Vipers Bursting, Always, 2023, copper, mild steel, patination. Courtesy: the artist ​

IC You have replaced the traditionally white walls of the commercial gallery with long, pink curtains. The space swallows its spectators whole. What inspired the setting of your show? 

AR I have learned to love the theatrical as I move into my practice. The pink curtains play with the expectation of performance: they are occasionally interrupted by casts of my stomach or parted by disembodied fingers, encouraging you to look at what sits behind them. A while ago, I went to the theatre with my aunt, who works in fine art. I remember her saying, ‘I can’t concentrate on the stage because I’m constantly thinking about the spectacle behind the curtain.’ From then, I also found myself unable to suspend my disbelief. My mind kept wandering back to what was happening behind the scenes, which aspects were shown and concealed. What has become? What is yet to become? 

Alicia Radage’s ‘Dream of the Mother Language’ is on view at Pictorum Gallery, London, until 8 February

Main image: Alicia Radage, Fierce Dance, Vipers Bursting, Always, 2023, copper, mild steel, patination. Courtesy: the artist ​

Ivana Cholakova is a writer and editorial assistant at frieze. She lives in London, UK.

Alicia Radage is an artist based in London. She works through sculpture, performance, text and painting with an interest in Animist practices.