Magazine article Art Monthly

Cathy Wilkes

Magazine article Art Monthly

Cathy Wilkes

Article excerpt

Cathy Wilkes

Milton Keynes Gallery April 16 to June 8

Cathy Wilkes's work has a quiet wrongness that feels quite right. In an exhibition that includes sculpture, paintings and video, she uses standstills to make us consider what is indispensable for human use. Wilkes's objects behave in a sly combination that hints at narrative and then retracts it, resulting in a sense of suspension and emotional separation.

The mixed media installation (We Are) Pro Choice, 2008, resembles a set for an Absurdist play, after the drama has occurred, the props unusable or used up. Two rungs of a tall wooden ladder have been removed and burnt, the charred remains laid in a row on the floor; a female mannequin, seated on a purple loo, has been 'dressed' in a headband of wire and string that obscures her eyes and from which hang a ladder rung, a string of bells, a china cup, a Le Creuset frying pan and a long, spoon-shaped plastic grid; a large trifle bowl has been scraped clean, the spoon left in it; a double oven serves as a counter for a broken wine glass, a jar of skin cream, loose strands of hair, a jar of Bonne Maman jam smeared with a film of its contents. Associations ricochet between bulimia/anorexia and the enforced thinness of beauty, and spread to the wider context of nourishment, nurturing and the dilemma of the domestic faced by the clothed, living woman. The burnt ladder emits the signal of thwarted female potential, its sooty ashes anointing the head of the harassed model mum who can never be bonne enough. Somewhere between a shrine and a sacrifice, the mannequin poses in wry mockery of the fulfilment women are offered by conventional roles of romance, motherhood and domestication. Objects that seem provisional are carefully placed: an AA battery stood upright under a Pyrex bowl. The random and the reasoned slip over each other: dried rosebuds--in a scattered heart on a lurid yellow rubber mat--are poignant one minute and punchy the next. It reminds me of being burgled and coming home to find the thief's cigarette stubbed out in the sugar bowl on the table. It was so shocking, compact and indelible that it became the intrusion and the theft. Something here has been stolen, something the owner didn't know she had, and the everyday items around her are made to stand in for and attempt to express what's missing. …

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