February 26, 2024

Ellie Rees: The Day of the Twenty Four Cakes

The Day of the Twenty-Four Cakes by Ellie Rees is a twenty-four hour, multi-screen video installation based on a short story idea by Sylvia Plath. In Plath’s draft the central female character is frustrated by her domestic entrapment to the point of polarised choices: she contemplates either leaving her husband and children, or killing herself. Instead, the narrative has her choose a third way: she stays and bakes.  Ellie Rees enacts the story baking morning noon and night: sifting, mixing and icing her way through twenty-four different cakes. Shot in real time with no edits it is a test of endurance that illustrates the dichotomy felt by many women between a desire to ‘make home’ and their own creative and intellectual work.


Ellie Rees: The Day of the Twenty Four Cakes, 2005, film still

Typically to Ellie Rees’s practice, the work presents a performance-based video which combines humour and irony to investigate what it means to be a woman in contemporary society. Rees exaggerates portrayals of women in cinema and literature, juxtaposing the inconsistency between liberated female roles and romantic views depicted in high and popular culture. Her work is meticulously rehearsed with a regard for formal, cinematic considerations. Aiming, not to make a documentation of a live event, but a precise performance to camera, the work is often made using an uninterrupted ‘one-take’ method. This is in pursuit of ‘authenticity’ and a desire to create tension. As a result, the artist replies rehearsal and the craft of the performer rather than technological postproduction.

The Day of the Twenty-Four Cakes presents a dialogue with Banquet, the installation by Dr. Raimi Gbadamosi, also shown at South Hill Park. Banquet is a meeting point for people with complicated social relationships, consisting of a banquet table of 900 candles and a series of framed monologues by the artist. Even though banquets are often celebratory feasts, they highlight social exclusion and the uneasiness of social gatherings: does “bad news go better with food”?

The timing of the displays, the festive season, introduces a dialogue between the pieces: it proposes further questions about obsessive, common routines with darker, fascinating references to repetition, class, gender and race.

South Hill Park Arts Centre, Ringmead, Bracknell RG12 7PA

3 December – 29 January

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