Exhibition Review: Laura White. We Can Have It All, Simon Bayliss
This is Tomorrow: Contemporary Art Magazine. Feb 2013.
Colourful iconic sculptures traditionally elevated atop a variety of prominent rich-grey plinths casually fill the bright brick space like a gathering of artists nattering at a private view. Ranging from formal abstracts to the highly figurative, each evokes moments in art history. The objects all contain ‘ready-made’ armatures cocooned in rubbery matter; a caked CD rack evokes an architectural model, while figurines endowed with pot-bellies, facial hair and fat penises, playfully invert the classical male image. Hepworth-esque holey forms expose glimpses of their internal structures; ‘stuff’, to use White’s term: a flipper, a bicycle helmet, designer watering cans, model dolphins, a toy car, as well as more ambiguous colourful plastics. These are joined by a bearded pharaoh incarnated from an androgynous bust, a spiral form mimicking Tatlin’s Tower, as well as closed vessels – totemic or like Greek urns, some exposing crockery innards. Even with this great variety of signs, the colourful rubbery veneers blanket the work with a consistent aesthetic. Sculpted hands-on, the build-up of matter and painterly colour is generously disclosed.
Perhaps the most potent objects, casually interjected, are light-grey crucifix forms bejewelled with little rubbery building blocks cast from children’s toys. Notably the ready-mades in this case are the object’s flesh instead of its bones. Resembling bleached jelly sweets; dinosaurs, pigs, strawberries, hearts, ‘scream’ faces, gingerbread men, as well as more uncanny inverted casts of animal figures – like skins – meld and overlay. Placed at the tips of the appendages are toy guns, soft like Dali’s melting clocks. Whether the crucifixes intend sacrilege, or are simply borrowed forms, like everything else, whether relics or Poundland detritus, they are transformed through playful rubberisation. Nevertheless a cross will retain significance however it is sculpted; these potent symbols add an edge far from innocence.
In the second more enclosed space are three spot-lit photographs of towering vessels, tiered from ornate ceramic vases, plates and pots. A waving Chinese cat, a toy figure brandishing a gun riding a Sphinx, and dolphins in a snow globe, are placed like deities tending these multicultural totems. Photographically scaled up, the forms evoke the unsettling presence of ritual objects, and with only residual traces of rubber as decorative blobs and spikes, they act as skeletal counterparts to the hubbub of sculptures in the opposite room.
The sculptural practice of utilising society’s junk is not new, but White is not adamantly critiquing consumerism; instead she layers and amalgamates borrowed assumptions about man-made objects. ‘We Can Have it All’ reimagines the stations of familiar objects, placing them within an abridged and renegotiated simulation of sculpture’s history spanning from antiquity to modernism. The ‘flesh’ used to bond and sculpt these forms playfully homogenises them, devaluing their derivative cultural and historical hierarchies, whilst the mock-social congregation on bespoke plinths activates an alternative micro-culture framed by the gallery walls. Throw-away kitsch, antique market mementos and high-modernist sculpture coalesce, but for White it seems that toying with the notion of religious elevation is the most potent thread of enquiry.