Carl Gent, Over the Fallow Flood

21st May - 3rd July 2022

Over the fallow flood presents and refictionalises the life of Cynethryth, 8th-century Queen of Mercia. One of the most powerful women in Europe and husband to King Offa, founder of Bexhill, Cynethryth’s story has long been obscured by biographers who sought to discredit her power. Made over an extended period of research, Carl Gent’s work unearths material knowledge about Cynethryth, and interweaves the presence of other women from Bexhill’s history who have been both smeared and overlooked. Through sculpture, text, video, drawing and performance, Gent probes us to ask who writes our histories, and whose stories are buried, cleansed, daubed over and retold. 

 

The exhibition centres around Queen Cynethryth (died after 798) and Kate Marsden (1859–1931). Cynethryth is the only Anglo-Saxon queen known to have had coins issued in her name. She enjoyed a rare level of power, influencing her husband’s decisions and often being addressed jointly with him in formal letters. However, the official chroniclers of her and Offa’s history – usually monks – sought to place her husband’s infamy onto her, labelling her a ‘hussy’ and blaming her solely for his crimes. 

 

Kate Marsden was a missionary, nurse and philanthropist. She travelled 11,000 miles across Siberia during the 1890s in search of a rumoured cure for leprosy that she never found. On her return to England she was faced with scepticism and personal attacks over her sexuality and allegations of money laundering. These rumours followed her to Bexhill, where she moved to retire, and forced her to resign from the board of Bexhill Museum which she co-founded before it even 

opened.

 

“I grew up in Bexhill and was a pupil at King Offa Junior School. That I had heard about Offa all my life but knew nothing about Cynethryth drew me towards her and the lack of a believable life-story in the existing records. By building carnival floats in her name and using my own assortment of ‘Bexhillian materiality’ – fuchsia flowers, liquid soap, King Offa school uniform and receipt rolls – I’ve been trying to unearth something about her that feels more persistent. Something that rings true, or at least less false. A lot of the works on show are remade versions of previous pieces or artworks that bear the scars of their previous use or display. Some of these scars are not through a lack of care but an application of it. With stories like this, that are deprioritised or simply lost to time, the message needs re-enacting for it to stand a chance. More recently I’ve been decapitating the various men who damaged Cynethryth, either during her life or after her death. Sticking effigies of their heads on spikes and stuffing their overactive mouths with receipt rolls and living shrubs feels like a valid tactic. Stop the noise and let Cynethryth, or the silence that surrounds her, speak.”

 

Over the fallow flood has been co-commissioned by Jupiter Woods, London and Flatland Projects, Bexhill-on-sea.

 

Carl Gent is an artist from Bexhill-on-sea. They have recently exhibited and performed at Goldsmiths CCA, London; Wysing Arts Centre, Bourn; KELDER, London; Jupiter Woods, London; The Museum of English Rural Life, Reading; David Dale Gallery, Glasgow; ICA, London and the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-sea. They have recently published their first books, Felon Herb and All Us Girls Have Been Dead for So Long, a printed version of their play co-produced 

with Linda Stupart.