Cathie Pilkington’s Siren calls to the viewer. Part shop-counter mannequin, part Odalisque in pantyhose, Siren is a queasily seductive object, soliciting the viewer’s desire for her to be alive. But her face has the mute indifference, the horrible forgetfulness, of a dummy…
Building on the success of her recent exhibition in the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, ‘Soul – Thing’ develops Pilkington’s use of dolls, toys, and other figurative objects.
This entirely new body of sculptures, prints and drawings asks the viewer to invent and to imagine. Drawing on work as diverse as Pierre Imans’ wax mannequins from the 1920’s, Henry Moore’s reclining nudes, Hans Bellmer’s tortured puppets, and Morton Bartlett’s strange retinue of love-surrogates, Pilkington’s work threatens to make itself available to the viewer on more intimate terms than the art-world’s customarily mediated object / viewer relation, more in the manner of a dolly than an artwork. This unusually embodied connection is troubled by a sense of doubt, a conceptual response that deals more in belief than reason. In this, her work approaches the immediacy of ordinary figurative playthings, while at the same time playing with an ambiguous, compound object-hood shared alike by religious statuary and a child’s favourite transitional object.
This is an exhibition of haunted objects, whether haunted by the interest of the viewer, their maker, or their own pictorial logic. Like Siren, several of the works in this exhibition play with an idea of coming-into-being. Just as much as Pilkington’s work engages the imagination of the viewer, this tendency is held in check by other cues that pull the viewer back from a complete immersion in narrative or play. Pilkington’s images, both drawn and sculpted, appear at first glance as believable organic wholes; but when they are examined for any length of time, they cycle through appearing variously entire and disjointed, alive and dead, ‘soul’ and ‘thing’.
A fully illustrated catalogue of the works will be available with text by Ben Carpenter.