Olivia Plender

Neither Strivers Nor Skivers, They Will Not Define Us


Opening 21 October 2021, 6–9pm
Exhibition continues 22 October — 21 November 2021
Open Wed–Sun, 12–5pm

Olivia Plender has been commissioned to make new work for The Bower as part of her on-going project ‘Many Maids Make Much Noise’ focusing on the symbolic idea of having a voice, making noise and the power of the collective to claim the right to speak and be heard in public.

The exhibition at The Bower comprises a sound installation and posters produced in collaboration with the London Centre for Book Arts and a new publication designed by Design Print Bind. The work takes its starting point from an unpublished play entitled ‘Liberty or Death’ (c.1913) by Sylvia Pankhurst about women’s activism in East London, the struggles to win better living and working conditions, as well as votes for women.

Plender has been working with women’s groups active in London today to explore the themes of the play including: housing, domestic violence, imprisonment, the welfare system and unequal pay. Extracts from the script were reanimated by the women who discuss similarities between their experiences and those of their predecessors. Their conversations form the basis of the sound installation and posters, highlighting the return of the poor conditions outlined in the play, as a consequence of the austerity policies instituted by the British government in the last decade, which have disproportionally affected women. Forced into unpaid care work, or struggling with a punitive benefits system, precarious housing conditions, racism and detention, the women turn to protest. The disproportionate experiences of police violence and intimidation that follow, demonstrates how threatened the authorities are by women who speak up. The networks of care and solidarity that they create, enable them to change their situations and challenge the status quo. These conversations took place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photography: Jonathan Bassett


Neither Strivers Nor Skivers, They Will Not Define Us, 2020 sound, 20 min. 36 sec.


undefined –

undefined –


Olivia Plender’s practice draws on social history and often focuses on the problems with how it has been written. She is interested in the unequal power relations behind why certain versions of history are taken to be more valid than others, and revisits stories about the past that have gone unheard, been ignored, or deliberately misinterpreted in order to benefit those in power.  

This autumn Plender will exhibit a new video installation, based on the same research, at the 34th Bienal de São Paulo: ‘Though it’s dark still I sing’, and will also participate in ‘Life Support’ at Glasgow Women’s Library. She has shown in exhibitions around the world including: Idiorhythmias, MACBA, Barcelona (2019); BAHAR, The Istanbul Off-Site Project for Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017); El Teatro Del Mundo, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2014); British Art Show 7, Hayward Gallery, London and CCA, Glasgow (2010); Taipei Biennial (2010); Altermodern: Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London (2009). Recent solo shows include Practicing Politics: The Fogelstad Women’s Citizenship School 1922–1954, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2019) Olivia Plender, Maureen Paley Gallery, London (2016); Many Maids Make Much Noise, ar/ge kunst, Bolzano (2015–16); Rise Early, Be Industrious, which toured to MK Gallery, Milton Keynes; Arnolfini, Bristol and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2012-13). In 2013, Plender collaborated with Hester Reeve and Emma Chambers to curate an exhibition of artworks by Sylvia Pankhurst at Tate Britain. In 2015, Sternberg Press published the monograph Olivia Plender: Rise Early, Be Industrious. Olivia Plender is represented by Maureen Paley, London.

This exhibition and publication are generously supported by Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust. Olivia Plender is the recipient of an IASPIS Swedish Arts grant. The introductory film is supported by the Art Fund.