Carolyn V Watson

The injunction to 'play pretend,' in the title of Carolyn V Watson's upcoming show with Anthea Polson Art, connotes both childlike innocence and something more ambivalent, even troubling. Across sculptures and panel paintings, Watson stages the shocking vulnerability - and the alienating freshness - of a world made strange to itself through the artist's imaginative intervention into it.

Watson’s mirror (a history of energies), 2021, is  unsettling in its perfection, its unlikely and delicate resolution of opposing categories. The sculpture brings the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’  into a disconcerting coalescence: bone and earthy porcelain are overlaid with an intricate network of lace, and bio-organic forms (a human hand, cunicular ears) take on an eerie pallor in assemblage with each other. The sculpture is so disarming by the virtue of its being, precisely, the sum of its indissoluble parts. This work, like many of Watson’s, operates in excess of the natural/artificial dichotomy, insisting that the interest – and, furthermore, the truth of ourselves –  lies where these two categories intersect with each other.

Indeed, Watson’s recent work can be read as a  self-reflexive mapping of artifice itself: its entanglement with the ‘natural’ in our thinking, feeling, and identities, its utility, and its distinct brand of honesty. Gesturing to early twentieth-century Surrealism and, then, to the psychoanalytic category of the uncanny, Watson stitches fragments of natural and synthetic material – that is, the debris of both nature and culture – into conjunctions which reveal something of ourselves, and our world, by the very virtue of their being so strange, soft, and uncomfortable. Tiny porcelain hands emerge from animal forms, meaty torsos perch atop spindly limbs, and glass shines amongst the grit of leather and bone. Spotlight, 2021, is perhaps the most straightforwardly legible of these explorations. Here, a heavy-headed creature on long driftwood-like limbs peers into a mirror, which is also the base on which it stands – slouching towards self-revelation and self-representation, equally. The work of the artist, Watson seems to propose, might be to find both the strangeness amongst the naturalised, and to metabolise the strangeness of the world such that it might become, itself, a working part of our lives. Jacqueline Houghton, in the text for Watson’s exhibition with Anthea Polson Art, traces this interest for Watson to her research into the Russian writer and literary theorist Victor Shklovsky. Shklovsky, writes Houghton, ‘asserted that objects deliberately made ‘unfamiliar’ or strange removed the viewer’s ‘automatism of perception’ so that the ‘commonplace’ might be seen as if for the first time.’ To see Watson’s figures is to see their composite parts – material, animal, affective – for the first time, made fresh by the light of each other. In this way, Watson’s artifice remakes the natural anew.

In this new show, Watson also exhibits  a series of panel paintings, each of which becomes a structuring principle for the others. These networked images picture figures which Watson describes as ‘imposters in their own narratives’: creatures which either wear or are, themselves, masks. Certainly, these vibrant paintings on birch ask us to have fun with them – to find within them pattern, false starts and trick turns, spectral flashes of recognisable forms. Yet, they also ask us to think about fabrication. To what extent can the masks these creatures wear be considered untruths – and in what way, on the other hand, could such acts of artifice as they gesture to compose the very real fabric of our selves? The title of Watson’s show, ‘let’s play pretend,’ might connote cunning. Equally, it might ring as an innocent injunction to participate in the world-making of posturing and pretend. Watson’s sublunary sculptures, and interlocking paintings, won’t offer any instructions on their interpretation – except, perhaps, to ask you to blink and look again.

let’s play pretend
1-15 May, 2021
Anthea Polson Art, Qld.

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related