Friday, 2 November 2012

Experiencing The Uncanny at Chapel Gallery

Frillip Moolog beings. 'Cyril', 'Reg' and 'Fin' in The Uncanny exhibition at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk
In his essay The Uncanny (1919), Freud writes about how the uncanny is associated with the bringing to light of what was hidden and secret. He distinguishes the uncanny from the simply frightening by defining it as ‘that class of the terrifying which leads us back to something long known to us, once very familiar' (but now buried in our memory). 

When we experience something which is uncanny we often get goosebumps, we feel uncomfortable and confused. We try to put our finger on what it is that is disturbing but it isn’t always that simple to explain. 
The uncanny is something best understood by experiencing it oneself. 

I have been fascinated by the phenomenon of the uncanny for many years... actually since I was a small child.

If I were to curate an exhibition with the theme of The Uncanny then I would definitely include Beast, an early work by Laura Ford and Dish Cover (1993) by Dorothy Cross.
Beast is made from familiar and usually very comforting woolen blanket but Laura Ford's Beast is very definitely disconcerting. His pose seems that of a docile and harmless beast but actually he also is very sinister at the same time. You know you’ve played with blankets as a child, did you ever make your own beast; is this the same one come back to play again?

Beast By Laura Ford, New Art Gallery Walsall
Dorothy Cross’ Dish Cover appeals to me especially because of her incongruous mix of materials; there are not many people who feel completely relaxed in the presence of a piece of art such as this. I also like the apparent simplicity of this piece and enjoy that it can be understood on several levels.
”I rely on old tricks, old systems. The ancient, mysterious notion - collective knowledge - of the power of objects or colours…makes sense to me... I like to explore the histories of objects and how we project our fears onto them and read them as metaphors and symbols.” Dorothy Cross Art Monthly Feb 1997

Dish Cover (1993) by Dorothy Cross
My own earlier works were very heavily influenced by furniture forms, this modified chair from  Jurgen Bey’s Healing series (2000) was very inspiring. There are various ways of seeing things, chair? toy?... nothing is fixed and possibilities are limitless.

Chair by Jurgen Bey part of his Healing Series (2000) 
I currently have six Frillip Moolog beings in an exhibition entitled The Uncanny at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk. There are drawings, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photographic and video works in this show which has been curated by Ruth Owen.

In the foreground Rachel 2010 one of my Frillip Moolog beings. Her chiffon curtains are an obvious reference to human clothing and unbeknownst to the viewer the brass curtain rail has a long history in my family; having been part of not only my bedroom furniture but years earlier my mother's bedroom furniture too. 

In the exhibition essay Ruth says of my work, “ Kirsty E Smith’s three-dimensional beings are joyfully absurd. They marry furniture and fabric with elements suggestive of legs or hair. This incorporation of materials so closely associated with human characteristics encourages the viewer to anthropomorphise these essentially abstract works.”  

The exhibition is curated in such away that certain pieces seems to speak to one another.  'Rachel' and 'Colin' communicate well with this Caroline Watson painting
The Uncanny is most often associated with domestic spaces; familiar spaces, places that are lived in or at least were once lived and this is one of the reasons why the The Uncanny Room (2002) exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor was so successful. In that exhibition the curators, Tessa Peters and Janice West explored the ways in which certain objects can invoke a feeling of strangely elusive familiarity. 
They suggested that it is not just the object itself that gives rise to this uncanniness, but also the context in which it is experienced. 

Pitzhanger Manor was once the country residence of Sir John Soane. (He bought it in 1800 and completed his remodelling by 1804.) The house uses many typical Soane features: curved ceilings, inset mirrors, false doors, and wooden paneling with many cupboards; these all make it a beautiful and atmospheric building and one perfect for staging an exhibition on The Uncanny. 
An interesting viewpoint within the Chapel Gallery
For the current exhibition at Chapel Gallery Ruth had a challenge as the gallery is not a domestic space, however it is a central venue in the town of Ormskirk and has many visitors who visit on a frequent basis- these regular visitors will be extremely familiar with the space. 

By curating this themed exhibition visitors are exposed to the Uncanny from the viewpoint of twelve different artists and so they cannot help but notice that something is different about this exhibition.

 I like this view of Caroline Watson's 'Tinpot Cabaret' through the central bridge of my Frillip Moolog being 'Reg'. I also can't help but make visual connections between the fingers in Caroline's painting and the radiating stripes in 'Cyril'.  
Ruth summarised in her exhibition essay,
“In a very literal way, the gallery space itself embodies the sense of something familiar yet different; each time a new exhibition is installed. We hope you enjoy the current manifestation of the Chapel Gallery and that it draws you through to explore the curious uncanny world we have constructed with you in mind”.

The Uncanny 
show continues until 17th Nov 2012
Chapel Gallery,
Ormskirk UK
L39 4QR