Wednesday, 3 June 2009

REVIEW: 'The Social Lives of Objects'

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 3rd June 2009
 "The Social Lives of Objects: Thalia Allington-Wood is disturbed by the mermaids at Castlefield Gallery"

Walking into The Social Lives of Objects is like entering a curiosity shop. Objects from around the world, unexpected and delightful, stand on shelves, tables and plinths. Manipulated, adapted and skewed, the sculptures and multimedia images of this exhibition are simultaneously comic and disturbing.

The artwork playfully examines our relationship with material objects by distorting them and provoking our expectations. Two brushes are placed together and initially look like a set of false teeth, a tennis racquet is filled with gridded glass, another re-strung to have a circular hole in the middle. The objects are everyday yet utterly surprising in their new forms. Their associations are altered, their signification changed.

All the objects used by artists Hilary Jack, Lisa Penny and Dallas Seitz have been found, whether in charity shops, skips or on eBay. None of them are new, they each have an individual past, a previous life, and it is this that the works seek to explore and articulate.

Hilary Jack’s wonderful ‘Centaur Departs Damaged Herd’ comprises of carved Kenyan springbok, standing upon a variety of salvaged wooden tables. Protruding from their bare heads are gnarled and forked branches, antler like. The composition of wood in its natural form, joined and moulded to the manufactured products it serves to make, tells the story of the sculptured springbok’s happening. Once tree, now sculpture.

Dallas Seitz’s work is far more disturbing and uncomfortable. He mutilates objects embedded in family history (taxidermy animals, bones, teeth, a voodoo bust taken from his grandmother’s bathroom) into ominous, mythical and gothic sculptures. Rather than replicate and explain the objects' histories, Seitz creates new ones that maintain respect for their past. The most off-putting element is the pleasure they give the viewer.

In one, a mermaid skeleton is created with the tail of a fish, goat bones and a modelled human head. This mermaid has in no way emerged from a beloved Disney flick. Another, ‘Voodoo Princess’, shows a, now politically incorrect, plaster sculpture of a beautiful black woman. Her eyes are replaced with those once belonging to a doll, teeth are hung around her neck and within her hair, coral earrings adorn her, their aesthetic mocking and highlighting the grotesque nature of her other appropriated accessories.

Seitz’s work creates strong emotions if nothing else; horror mixed with fascination, fear with admiration. They highlight our love of the strange and obscure, our interest in all that is opposed to the norm.

Interspersed among these is the work of Lisa Penny, whose collaged pieces reiterate the repetition and borrowing that takes place within history, trends, and object associations. By placing images together, removing them from their original context, or cutting out part of their composition, Penny forces us to look at them in a new light. Like all of the artists in this intriguing and clever exhibition, Penny challenges and reorders the meanings of individual objects and in doing so highlights the associations that fill our daily discourses.

The Social Lives of Objects, Castlefield Gallery, 2 Hewitt Street, Manchester, Wednesday-Sunday, 1pm-6pm, until 19 July, free, 0161 832 8034,


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