Since the publication of Gender Trouble, American queer theorist Judith Butler’s seminal text on the myth of essential gender characteristics, the idea of naturally innate male and female dispositions of character have become untenable. Put simply, masculinity and femininity are not natural facts like gravity or the sun, they are cultural constructs, fictions we are born into that dictate how we should behave and what we are capable of as individuals.

No Man’s Land seeks to demolish these enduring myths and the socio-cultural hierarchies that have been created in their name.

The installation utilised traditional brick bonds, arranged according to established architectural conventions of today, but with an overarching formal composition reminiscent of ancient temples from antiquity. The idea was to use these conventional forms as a visual metaphor for two things: the rigid gender constructs that have been passed down from generation to generation, and their endurance as unaltered male/female design archetypes assigned to us at birth.

Composed of brittle floral foam bricks that draw in and retain water, this structure is also a symbol for the sustenance and embodiment of life and growth. In evolutionary terms, we felt this drew a parallel to the nature-nurture relationship, questioning whether gender is an innate quality or one that develops through personal experience.

The audience was invited to mould, shape and break the bonds of this structure. This action held a symbolic meaning of breaking away from a determined past and entering into an undetermined future. For us, if there is anything that approaches ‘human nature’ it is the tabula rasa or ‘blank slate’. Within the structure, this is represented by the internal void filled with sand.

Overall No Man’s Land is propositioning the reconstruction of our evolutionary histories through co-evolution – a theory that states cultural practices directly influence the evolutionary process.

The No Man’s Land Installation was accompanied by a symposium, speakers included: Amelia Abraham (Vice Magazine), Hilda Hellström (Designer), Dr. Harriet Harriss (Oxford Brookes) & Prof. Dale Russell (University of the Arts London), see footage of the event here.