Jeannette Ehlers
Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind

7 May – 20 June 2015

Rivington Place

London, UK


Presented in two parts, seven evening performances in the gallery followed by a seven-week exhibition, Whip it Good retraces the footsteps of colonialism and maps the contemporary reverberations of the triangular slave trade via a series of performances that will result in a body of new ‘action’ paintings.

Autograph ABP presents Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind, the first UK solo exhibition by Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers.

Jeannette Ehler’s practice takes the form of simple actions, which erase, enhance or animate historical spaces, raising complex questions about memory, race and colonialism. In Whip It Good, Ehlers fiercely confronts national and personal histories in an effort to critically reimagine and challenge racist systems of power and domination. During each performance, the artist radically transforms the whip - a potent sign and signifier of violence against the enslaved body - into a contemporary painting tool, evoking within both the spectators and the participants the physical and visceral brutality of the transatlantic slave trade. Deep black charcoal is rubbed into the whip, directed at a large-scale white canvas, and – following the artist’s initial ritual - offered to members of the audience to complete the painting.

However, the themes that emerge from Whip It Good trace beyond those of slavery: Ehler’s actions powerfully disrupt historical relationships between agency and control in the contemporary. The ensuing ‘whipped’ canvases become transformative bearers of the historical legacy of imperial violence, and through a controversial artistic act re-awaken critical debates surrounding gender, race and power within artistic production.

What the process generates for the artist is an intensely focused space in which to make new work as part of a cathartic collaborative process:

‘Performing Whip It Good over seven days will be both physically and mentally challenging. For me, this act represents a personal attempt to identify with a brutal past while trying to make sense of the present.’
Jeannette Ehlers, 2015

Ehlers’ seven newly produced paintings are exhibited in the context of two of her earlier moving image works: Waves (2009), a looped video projection of manipulated recordings of the Atlantic Ocean, presents a hypnotic mediation on the trade in humans across the Middle Passage.

The exhibition continues upstairs in Project Space 2 with a video installation of The Invisible Empire (2010). Here, Ehlers provocatively places the figure of an elderly migrant – the artist’s father – as the protagonist of a sculptural video piece that subtly links the colonial exploitation of the past to pertinent issues of modern day slavery and human trafficking in the present. Drawing on film, photography and video and using an archaeological approach to history, Ehlers’ moving image works weave facts and images into potent triggers for forgotten memories or lived experiences, forcing us to think collectively about colonial legacies and the plight of marginalised people in the world today.

Whip It Good: Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind is organised by Autograph ABP in collaboration with guest curator Karen Alexander.

Whip It Good was originally commissioned in 2013 by The Art Labour Archives in Berlin. The exhibition's title ' Spinning From History’s Filthy Mind' is borrowed from the poem 'Black Bullets' by Krista Franklin.

What the press says

The beauty of Jeannette’s art is it’s experimental nature and the innovative risks she takes that both engage, and at times make her audience feel incredibly uncomfortable

Black Ballad

If you enjoy art, like it to make you think and potentially stop you in your tracks then I urge you not to miss this

Le Cool London

[Ehlers] strikes back at the violent history of slavery and colonialism. As a Black woman artist she strikes back against the dominance of white male art and patriarchal structures. At the same time, her work stands in solidarity with the continuous violence reenacted against Black lives.

Africa is a Country

Visitor Comments

Everything art should be but rarely is - thank you

Amazing experience. An intense rush of anxiety, anger and then release once it's over. Thank you

I thought it was the most beautiful thing I have seen…creative and mesmorizing

poignant and complex, bringing issues of race, power, colonialism, pain to the room

I loved how we were involved in the creation of the piece, it was inspiring and cathartic.

It was visceral, emotional…when I was able to shift to seeing it as a piece of art, then I had no choice but to participate.

A beautifully held creation. Deep, intense, special and so full of meaning…Oh the power of transformational acts!

An amazing performance…I was trembling

Symbolised and almost demonstrated a rebellion agains oppression

Uncomfortable, chilled. The sound of the whip on the canvas is like a gun going off.

The simplicity of the piece created space for images to flourish…one simple action can bring back memories of past events and mixed emotions.


Adriano Adewale performance

Sat 23 May, 4pm

Rivington Place, London

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Jeannette Ehlers
Artist talk & exhibition wine reception

Thu 28 May. 6:30pm, talk begins at 7pm

Rivington Place, Lonson

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Curator’s Tour

Sat 13 June, 1pm

Rivington Place, London

Read more »

What's in the exhibition

Project Space 1 (PS1, Ground Floor)

Whip It Good (2015)
7 canvases, each measuring 100x200cm
Charcoal, leather whip

The video work on display is part of the artist's Atlantic Series:

Waves (2009)
Video loop, 8’04min

Project Space 2 (PS2, Second Floor)

The Invisible Empire (2009)
Sculptural video installation, 20’02 min on continuous loop

About the artist

Jeannette Ehlers is a Danish Trinidadian visual artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was educated at the Funen Art Academy and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark. Recent exhibitions include the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, USA (2014) and ‘Jeannette Ehlers: Say It Loud’, Nikolaj Kunstahal, Copenhagen, Denmark (2014), amongst other international showcases. Recently, Ehlers has performed Whip It Good in Europe, South Africa and the USA. Her work is held in a number of Danish national and private collections including The National Museum of Photography and the Danish Arts Foundation.  

About the curator

Karen Alexander is an independent film and moving image curator, advisor and researcher. She has worked with and for the Royal College of Art, the British Film Institute and a wide range of cultural institutions. She has acted as a consultant/programmer for agencies, visual arts organisations and galleries, including Film London, the Watershed, Tate Liverpool, the Serpentine Gallery, and has been a trustee of Artangel since 2005.

Press, Images and Information

All press enquiries or for further information about the exhibition, please contact Lois Olmstead at Autograph ABP:

E: lois@autograph-abp.co.uk
T: 020 7720 9200

Additional Info

Rivington Place

T: info@rivingtonplace.org 
P: 0207 749 1240

Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm
Saturday: 12 – 6pm
Closed Sundays, Mondays and Bank Holidays

Rivington Place is fully accessible. Disabled parking bays are available, please call in advance to reserve. 
Free admission 

  • Whip it Good, 2014 performance. Photo Casper Maare
  • Waves, 2009. Video loop, 8’04min
  • Whip it Good, 2014 performance. Photo Nikolaj Recke
  • Jeannette Ehlers, Whip it Good, 24 April 2015, post-performance at Rivington Place, London