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Culture, Art

Appearance at Modern Art Oxford

A Vision of Female Identity

“Art can give critical distance”

Focusing on the artist’s multi-layered vision of female identity, a major new exhibition by Carey Young offers timely new perspectives on power, gender, and justice. Here, Young explains the meanings and motivations behind the project and explores her thoughts on International Women’s Day.

About Appearance

The show centres on three video works with interlinked themes around law and the identity of women. The new commission, Appearance, features fifteen women judges working at courts in the UK. People often think of a judge as being an older white man – a very reasonable assumption. I wanted to reverse this by portraying – through a wordless video portrait – some of the judges who defy this historical fact. The piece includes the UK’s youngest judge, who is in her early 30s, as well as judges of diverse ethnicities and ranks. In a sense, the piece portrays my ‘edited version’ of the judiciary. It’s a vision in which more of our population might feel that the judiciary represents them. The piece includes extreme close-ups of the judges’ clothing, hair and jewellery – surprising details which add personality and contrast with their official robes. There are two other videos in the show – both exploring relations between power, female identity, and ideas of looking – and new photographic works, plus some text-based works, all of which explore ideas connecting law, architecture, and the body.

Carey Young, still from Appearance, 2023. © Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Carey’s Interest in Law

It was a happy accident. My early artistic work considered the overlaps between corporate thinking, art and politics, so it wasn’t such a big distance to law. Around the turn of the millennium, I crossed paths with a specialist in patent law while I was on an artist residency at Xerox in Cambridge. While people might think of law and art as polar opposites of each other, the similarities between patent law and the teaching or even exhibition and selling of art were striking to me – all seek to manage and structure creativity within a managed process. My interest expanded from there – after twenty years of making art about law it only gets more interesting as a subject, including its history, right back to the Romans and Ancient Greeks, let alone legal ideas that are outside Western canons. I’ve researched many legal topics, including land law, contracts, intellectual property, human rights… in legal terms, this makes me pretty feral. Law structures our world, our sense of individual possibilities, freedoms and rights, and conversely, our lack of those. It’s a vital subject, and a very dynamic one, especially outside the UK where people are even more engaged with these issues. I believe it’s a fabulous subject for artists to explore and showing these works in a gallery helps expand public understandings of law, and how power operates. It’s only by understanding these things that we can change them or see them for what they are. Art can give critical distance.

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017. © Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

The Subjects

The new video, Appearance, involved much research. I was looking for judges who defied the general public expectation of what a judge might look like. Firstly, I was looking for women, but also, beyond older white women, of whom there are quite a few amongst the judicial ranks, who else might be a judge these days? The research was tricky as judges often try to restrict the number of images of themselves online, or don’t put any online at all, because they can be public targets. In the end, the piece includes fifteen very varied women, including the UK’s youngest judge, judges of various ethnicities, and the UK’s only trans judge, who turned up to the shoot with bright blue streaks in her long hair and scarlet lipstick – a fabulous mix on camera, in relation to the traditional judicial robe.

Carey Young, still from Palais de Justice, 2017. © Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

International Women’s Day

In part, it makes me sad. It’s patronising. A single day, to celebrate the achievements of half of humanity is very telling. Womens’ achievements, experiences and issues should come to light as a matter of course, not on a single day, as it just marginalises us all over again. So, I don’t think this special day achieves much. I’m much more interested in legislation to protect and improve women’s rights, such as getting further towards equal pay. But I also have to admit, I enjoy the focussed coverage of women’s achievements and experiences.


Beyond Oxford’s beauty, I met some fascinating postgraduate students whilst I was a fellow at Wolfson College and enjoyed many of the museums. The Bodleian Llaw Lilibrary has a pretty amazing collection if you’re that way inclined. And Modern Art Oxford has amazing exhibitions – some of which inspired me as a young artist. It’s thrilling to be showing there.

Appearance is at Modern Art Oxford from 25 March-2 July


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