Founded by Emily Briselden Waters and Grace Crannis from the Royal College of Art Feminist Society, SYRUP covers sticky, fluid concepts such as female sexuality, nose bleeds, drunk texting, sexual harassment, religion and sadomasochism and sex work, amongst others, culminating in a broad exploration of the multiplicity of the female and femininity. The well-collated pieces result in a simplicity that lacks the overbearing busyness of many zines, yet manages to convey significantly more depth and scope. As well as the textual contributions, SYRUP is peppered with visual art of various media – the absorbing, sanguineous images by Juliette Poggi, which include the front and back cover, provided a tempting introduction.
The first piece by photographer Alina Negoita consists of repetitive images of doll-like, female-presenting people, for me reflecting the ethereal sterility of mass-produced womanhood. In a similar vein, I particularly enjoyed Ruby Rossini’s scrutiny of the consumption of visual ‘femininity’ through her unsettling positioning of everyday objects. Later on, the surreal illustrations by Moule depict fantastical bodies that tread close to disturbing the viewer, yet their simplicity and long, black lines radiate a flowing sexual energy and peaceful sense of sisterhood.
Elena Gilvea’s enteric, squeam-inducing clay sculpture develops the themes towards a more visceral interpretation. I found the arresting contrast between her work and the detached, otherworldly symbolism of the previous pieces satisfyingly grounding. SYRUP’s theme concludes with a sample of Louise Long’s ‘series of sugar paintings exploiting the natural crystallisation of sugar’. Taken from ‘The Understory’, an ‘exploration of the narratives surrounding the history of sugar’1, these pieces successfully reinforce the central theme at the climax of the publication in an uncomplicated way, and to graphically stunning effect. The photographs of older people by Stella Malfiltre, however, whilst engaging in their own right, felt off-theme to me and like a clunky afterthought.
Theatre-maker and director Grace Gibson opens the written component of SYRUP with the short story ‘Echo Chamber’, a somewhat recognisable yet perturbing account of a post-break up cinema trip relayed with a pleasing attention to detail. I sympathised deeply with the narrator and the matter of fact language provides an affective shock factor when depicting the viciousness of the nosebleed. Gibson’s work is immediately followed by Ania Mokryzcka’s ‘State of Liquidity’, an entirely different, seductive stream-of-consciousness that represents, in both meaning and form, the liquidity of ideas and states of mind with close reference to the morphing boundaries of gender and sexuality. Mokryzcka links the growing fluidity of these boundaries to the freeing power of the feminine perspective, as opposed to the absolutism of patriarchal values. The work is passionate and enticing. However, in my view, it is let down by language that engages in non-binary erasure and cissexism. I found the writer’s exclusive use of ‘his’ and ‘her’ pronouns both undermining to their argument that the feminine aids a transition away from two ‘conflicting polarities’,2 and likely to be alienating to swathes of the current and potential readership. Furthermore, feminisms need to be considerably more aware of the scientific inaccuracy of and harm caused by notions such as ‘biological women and men’. Engagement with non-binary biological and social narratives is long overdue and a necessity for future feminist works.
Alicia Tsigarides’ visceral poem has a similarly sobering effect to Gilvea’s sculpture. Her sensorially aggressive language provides a powerful return to a lewd corporeality, culminating in a thrilling and grotesque assault on the reader’s senses. The poem is cleverly formatted and written with impressive vibrancy and dynamism, including the vivid passage describing ‘gothic juices that drip from your piss-holes and tear ducts, onto my outstretched tongue.’3 In a more subtle turn, Sara Jafari’s moving account of a journey to purchase a bottle of milk in Tehran highlights the slipperiness of national identity and belonging. Her heart-breaking story is an upsetting reminder that misogyny transcends national boundaries from England to Iran, and most importantly, that it is never the fault of female-presenting people and our clothing choices. Next up is ‘The Egg’, by artist and former RCA student Dew Kim, which endeavours to re-express the relationship between religion and sadomachism, using the narrator’s morning boiled egg as a symbolic entry point. Perhaps one of the less relatable entries, at least for me, the connections drawn between anguish, pleasure and religion are nonetheless intriguing, and the piece reads as an earnest depiction of the cognitive element of the artist’s creative process from conception to result.
Rounding off the written pieces is Lucy Hardcastle’s interview with three sex workers, ‘C’, ‘S’ and ‘I’. Together they cover topics such as the decline of stigmatisation of their profession, the pull of sex work, especially for university students, and the complications of online sex work as intellectual property. Whilst there is a refreshing focus on the perks of the job, the dicey boundaries between freedom of expression and exploitation are touched upon at the end of the interview. Interestingly, C’s account of continuing to feign love for clients who get into great financial difficulty as they attempt to pay for this service opens up a particularly complex conversation into the nature of power and exploitation in sex work, one I found uncomfortable and upon which I would be interested to hear other sex workers’ views.
My personal favourite entry overall, however, is Jenny Novitsky’s clever, pithy take on the modern tendency to engage in inadvisable drunken texting. The contrast between this phenomenon and a darker yet similarly familiar one – that of a lonely, melancholic submissiveness – is simultaneously comical and deflating.
Within SYRUP’s diverse material, there is a strong sense of continuity and commitment to its well-chosen themes. Its strength comes from the combination of relatability and experimentation. Through this the creators have resoundingly demonstrated that femininity, womanhood and sexuality can be aptly explored in a variety of accessible ways through a lens of the ‘sticky, sweet, and familiar’4.
Review by Lizzie Blair
1. Long, L. (2017) Title of Website [Online]. Available at http://louiselong.co.uk/selected-works–the-understory.html (Accessed 5 January 2017).
2. Briselden Waters, E. and Crannis, G. (2016) SYRUP, London, Royal College of Art Feminist Society, pp. 14.
3. Ibid., pp. 20.
4. Ibid., pp. 5.
Visit the SYRUP magazine website http://syrupmagazine.co.uk/ to buy your own copy and keep up-to-date with details of Issue No. 2, which explores the theme of ‘Borders’. The Feminist Library is selling copies of SYRUP Issue No. 1 at the Feminist Library Bookshop on Saturdays from 12-5pm. Email ahead to check stock levels at: email@example.com