Girlpower and Boyhood - Group Show (5 stars)

  • 18 August 2006

This article is from 2006.

Infantile fantasies present a rich dark seam of subject matter that is eternally mined by the artist’s paintbrush. In saying this we must remember that the psychic complexes that have been thrown over the unformed ego like a sharp wire net are not process that are anchored in time, ie lost to childhood. The Freudian and Lacanian mythic metaphors that shape the psyche are continually shifting states that are returned to and rewritten with each experience of self and other. The exhibition of paintings and prints at the Talbot Rice, delves into these metaphorical webs, untangling the fantastical correspondences that spin out from the unconscious through the artists’ fingertips.

The exhibition flows from Technicolour daydreams to the starkness of black and white nightmares; adult sexuality is shown to dwell in the messy space between the two (in the work of Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith, for example). Girls and boys, at this stage still occupying very separate worlds, frolic and gambol, looking both impossibly pre-pubescent and post-orgasmic. In the paintings and ‘tapestry’ of Herman Bas, a boy rides a centaur in an expressionistic landscape, another is supine on the back of an enormous swan. Mythology is queer and wonderful, gaudy and glorious, with Eros and Thanatos always ready to mate. In some paintings figures don’t ‘play nice’ and we remember the terror of childhood. Vanessa Phaff’s girls are fascists, whose murderous tempers have been unleashed.

The works on show are not necessarily explicit in their sexual imagery, but we are presented with the sometimes uncompromising, blunt version of sexed subjectivity (sexuation) that the adult finds when ‘looking through the eyes of a child.’ In Bourgeois prints ‘Male and Female’ (2005) we see a Freudian/Kleinian version of the child’s sexual fantasies, with genitals reduced to cones and sockets, and the ‘good mother’ and ‘bad mother’ represented as impersonal goddesses, the embodiment of universals. In Bourgeois’ ‘The Laws of Nature’ (five prints of a man and woman attempting and failing to manage gymnastic sex) we are reminded that ‘there is no sexual relationship’, as Lacan would have it, only the fantasies of omnipotence in childhood. (Alexander Kennedy)

Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, until Sat 30 Sep

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