SUSIE MacMurray’s first ever solo show, ‘The Eyes of the Skin’, couldn’t have been given a more fitting title. Every single piece, amongst the unusual collection of drawings, sculptures and installations, cries out for physical contact as much as it does visual appreciation. The creation of unworldly textures coincides with the ethereal nature of the show.
MacMurray’s role as an artist is one of shape shifter. She uses bland, lifeless, visually offensive synthetic objects and materials and turns them into something fantastically alien. Her work is proof that we are strangely drawn to the unfamiliar, as well as a reminder that something can be aesthetically pleasing, without being conventionally beautiful.
MacMurray’s role as an artist is one of shape shifter. She uses bland, lifeless, visually offensive synthetic objects and materials and turns them into something fantastically alien.
The term ‘artistic alchemy’ identifies precisely what each creation represents; MacMurray transforms the plain and invaluable substances into precious gold. However, as with most stories concerned with gold, the show casts an undeniably sinister shadow. By mimicking unsightly, bulbous shapes and monstrous body parts, MacMurray’s creations juxtapose visual intrigue with repulsion. They are incredibly provocative.
Amongst the array of shimmering green-black turkey feathers and black rubber hoses bended into wilting vein-like knots, sits ‘Maiden’, a framed picture of fishhooks suspended from real human hair. The uncanny effect is subtle yet chilling, a real comment on the fusion of natural and manmade materials. Every piece seems to echo the frailty of humankind and ‘the human condition’.
MacMurray subverts the cliché and in doing so she renews it. Similarly, the pen on paper drawings, ‘Stretched Hairnet’ and ‘Gauze Bandage’, represent the ways in which manmade substances are often used as part of an intimate connection with human skin and hair. The drawings have a strangely magical quality.
MacMurray has captured a depth in the materials that gives them more movement on paper that they would otherwise have in reality. The depth of the drawings gives the hairnet and gauze the appearance of life; a life they never had. MacMurray has the ability to recreate something in order to make it more real than it is. The show is in a realm of hyper-reality as a result.
Whilst the ground floor of the gallery is dedicated to Susie MacMurray, she has an additional piece on the first floor; a jaw dropping bridal gown made entirely from rubber gloves. The dress is named ‘A Mixture of Frailties’, and continues the obsessive cohesion of natural and manmade, but with a twist. Through the gown, MacMurray criticizes the idea of natural human behaviour and exposes the vulnerability of women.
Each glove is turned insight out, revealing an empty, pale interior that resembles flayed skin. The gloves are as prominent as they are disguised, as is, suggestively, the oppressive role of a housewife. The gown cascades out to the floor to create a kind of circular train. The circular nature, and the repeating pattern of the gloves resemble the prolonged, inherent rhythm destined for the bride. The show’s sinister undertones prevail.
Whereas the majority of the pieces are made to de-familiarize the observer, the hanging collection of wineglasses and lipstick, titled ‘Here Come the Girls’, offers an alternative tone. MacMurray’s shape shifting skills in this instance mark the power of connotations, conventions and traditional associations.
The show continues to comment on the endless repetitions society is confronted with. MacMurray’s work also comments on the nature of performance, which has been inevitably finessed as a result of her first life, in which she was a bassoonist with the Halle and the Gulbenkian Orchestras.
The bridal gown, as with all of the pieces from the show, demands to be touched, and yet to touch it would be to break its spell. Once touched, the gown would become what it truly is; a giant montage of mutated gloves. Touching the pieces from the show would be like losing a fantasy. They rely on the power of the mind much in the same way as a horror movie that is so surreal it grips your eyes.
Agnew’s Gallery is displaying ‘The Eyes of the Skin’ between 9 November and 2 December, which coincides with Susie MacMurray’s inclusion in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition ‘The Power of Making’.
Top image: A Mixture of Frailities, household gloves with calico tailor's dummy
All images are (c) Susie MacMurray courtesy of Agnew’s Gallery
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