Dumb-founded - Kathleen Fisher
Kathleen Fisher’s mannequins are no dummies. Without her intervention they might classify as dummies, but Fisher won’t allow her mannequins the luxury of gentle repose between gigs or the silent, sad, inevitable dismemberment and crumbling that comes with retirement.
The suggestive possibilities of mannequins—human replicas, mostly female and life size—have interested artists over many years. They appealed to the Dadaists and Surrealists, including Dali in paintings and installations and, in photography, Man Ray. Mannequins placed in fantastic settings referenced aspects of the human condition. Often with banal titles (Man Ray’s Mannequin with a moustache and wire over her head, for example) many expressed the artists’ fashionably nihilist views on art and life.
Kathleen Fisher’s images have evocative titles. There’s no shying away from the point of the image in her work, clever and witty anthropomorphic word play carrying a strong message about the use of the female image for commercial gain. As she says in the statement accompanying this exhibition (Fisher is a writer as well as a photographer; see www.tinypurplefishphotography.
You’ve probably noticed that most mannequins are female; in fact, this exhibition contains just one male, a young boy who looks like he’s in training to live in a Florida condo. In contrast, the females—whether ice-cold, overtly sexual, eerie or clownish—all exude a sense of tragedy or dissatisfaction. The result is a theme of femininity that is exaggerated and fake, perhaps reflecting the lifestyles these mannequins were originally manufactured to sell.
Mannequins interest contemporary artists worldwide. In May 2008 ABC News reported that
A mannequin perched on the toilet is vying with a cartoon cat to land the Turner Prize—the controversial British award that annually sparks a heated debate about the definition of art … Not a single painter made this year's short-list, which is dominated by filmmakers and video artists. … Cathy Wilkes displays shop mannequins squatting on the toilet and sitting with leftover bits of dried porridge at their feet.
It was the cartoon cat that took out the Turner. But, further illustrating the blurring of boundaries associated with mannequins and similar depictions of humans, The Guardian newspaper reported that ‘… the most controversial thing about this year's prize was its lack of controversy … The most that could be mustered was half-hearted tut-tutting over an exhibit featuring a naked mannequin on the toilet.’
Kathleen Fisher has made quirky and sometimes provocative contributions to group exhibitions at PhotoAccess over a number of years. We are very pleased to present the clever and rather eerie Dumb-founded, her first solo exhibition with us, in the HUW DAVIES GALLERY at the Manuka Arts Centre.