Carol-anne Gainer at Bell-Roberts Contemporary
by Lauren Reid
Kubrick's cult classic A Clockwork Orange is often recognized as one of the most violent films in cinema history, yet there is not one drop of blood shed. Carol-anne Gainer's 'Drawn' evokes this spirit in the Bell-Roberts space. Quiet violence is the order of the day, as a society at odds with itself is revealed through this multimedia exhibition. By using objects with strong domestic associations, particularly toys and ceramic animals, she aims to address the notions of a population that is constantly engaging in an internal battle, revealing itself through actions of muted brutality.
Gainer uses a host of media in this showing: 2 DVD installations, photographs of ceramic knickknack animals, found objects that have been bronze- and nickel-plated, large charcoal drawings and her trademark ribbons. This strong variety makes for a stimulating journey in which thematic links have been drawn between the most unlikely of materials.
The show is framed by the two DVD installations, with both showing objects found within the exhibition suffering at the hands of sadism. In Blue Elly a wheeled plastic toy elephant is repeatedly slammed into the wallpapered corner of a room, with the loop affecting a cyclical mayhem of maltreatment. The elephant featured in the DVD is found again in the real space, where it is placed adjacent to the screen. However, it has morphed from its malleable novelty status into a prize possession. Elephant is neatly plated in nickel, and finds its coat acting as a far more protective exterior than the exposed soft back we witnessed in the loop.
Gainer has extended this transformation process throughout the exhibition, with a variety of small toy-like objects having undergone the plating treatment. This is particularly effective in Birds, in which a small trio of nickel-plated birds colonise a wall as their own. The line between vulnerability and freedom is neatly articulated as these tiny objects remain fixed in their shiny positions on the wall.
In Gainer's previous outing at Bell-Roberts, her show was foregrounded with the intimate use of her body as the medium, but here she presents a collection that is instead marked by the absence of her physical presence. This assembly of morphed readymades does contain a performative element, but the relationship has shifted dramatically from her previous showing. There is in fact a near complete absence of human depiction, with the exception of the nickel-plated toy turned statuette, Boy With a Dog. Instead the show is largely comprised of animal imagery, which is further complicated by the fact that no actual animals are revealed. Ceramic kitsch pets, fake birds and sketches of memorial lions and trophy elephants dominate the visual base of the exhibition.
Although human presence is pointedly absent through figurative representation, this repetition of animal motifs provides a departure point for consideration of the role that people have in their interactions with the objects created in animal likeness, which are very much in attendance. What strange transfer in emotion occurs in these relationships, be it the ornamental dog, monumental statue lion or trophy head of an elephant? Human sentiments are imposed on inanimate objects daily, as people substitute animals for human interaction, wavering from innocent (pets) to sinister (prey).
This is further articulated in the copper-plated Leash and Collar, in which these normal pet accessories are inverted from objects connected with affection to ones which enact cruelty, hinting at the darker moments of these interactions. These literal tokens of physical malice are then neatly balanced by the metaphorical abuse uncovered in the wall installation, Vent. Navy ribbons are tightly wound around fifteen air vents and generate a vision of gentle suffocation, as these everyday domestic markers, that allude to healthy air flow in their normal state, are asphyxiated by the all-consuming ribbons which bind repeatedly, completing blocking all ventilation. Vent is perhaps the piece in the exhibition that exemplifies most apparently the quiet violence Gainer seeks to address. She manages to tranform the inanimate vent into a living, breathing object that is slowly being robbed of its rhythmic tides of air.
The readymade ceramic animals, which are ultimately still objects created in the likeness of the animate, are captured in a photo series which is extended throughout the floor space. The positioning of these delicate items behind glass seals their fragility within that frame, which they are then ironically destined to lose in the climatic DVD Smashing. The ceramic collectables are smashed against a wall, and the shattered remnants are presented at the floor. The cinematic effects of slow motion and sound from unseen sources combine to mask the apparent reality of this destruction, although we can see that the acts of violence captured on screen are in fact very real, as the debris is kindly displayed for us.
The other particular moments of depiction of the real are found in the three large charcoal drawings, which are carefully located away from each other, each dutifully claiming its own space. These break from the other works in 'Drawn' by featuring written text and including non-toy animals as seen with the memorial lion of Lion and Fuck, a semi-abstract sketch featuring an aerial view of a trophy-hunted elephant. The phrase purposefully wounded more than a dozen times to preserve the trophy parts of her body, is repeatedly scrawled with charcoal across the canvas in the More than a dozen times and is directly referential to the action of hunting displayed in Fuck.
However, it must be noted that these drawings have particularly obtuse entry points and while this background knowledge aids one's understanding of the pieces greatly, it is offered nowhere within the show. This is frustrating, because when understood these pieces align smoothly with the overall thematic concerns presented throughout 'Drawn' - those of violence, the trophy hunting, predator/prey relationship, the movement of low value to high value, animate/inanimate and general transformation, and serve to position the show in a much more intense perspective than initially allowed. However, this absence of meaning anchors their presence as being distinctly jarring within the context of the show as a whole.
Gainer has presented a densely layered offering with 'Drawn', proving that her oeuvre is not restricted to the body as an obvious central focus. The recognisable objects that she metamorphoses obediently engage with their task of commenting on the state of an anxious society consumed with minor acts of violence that fester to a dangerous boiling point. As we all walk with our weapons drawn, a sinister underbelly of our daily existence and the sadistic tendencies of human nature are revealed in this exigent, yet incendiary show.
Opened: August 22
Closed: September 15
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Malcolm Miles. Urban Avant-Gardes: Art, Architecture and Change. London: Routledge, 2004.
Gene Ray. 'Avant-Gardes as Anti-Capitalist Vector' in Third Text, Vol.21. Oxford: Routledge, May 2007, 241-255.