Cathy Wilkes: Prices
The Modern Institute, Glasgow, until Sat 6 Sep
Cathy Wilkes is adept at creating compelling discomfort, making us look, and look again at queasy or disturbing phenomena in search of hidden meanings and narratives. In this exhibition she creates the singular mixed media installation, ‘Prices’, from a range of found objects. A disused supermarket desk, a cracked old basket, an empty fish tank and two small piles of red bricks are casually assembled around the central focus – a naked mannequin.
There is a hollow, abandoned air to the space, made all the more disturbing by the dirty, worn out state of the objects and their outdated 1970s style. But the drama is in the detail: scattered on the floor and checkout is a range of dirty bowls with spoons and the traces of food still in them; if this is the aftermath of some event, it appears to have finished just before we arrived. The trace of childhood presence is only minimally suggested here, in an empty honey jar and a small plastic wolf toy dropped as if in haste into a jar inside the fish tank. On the mannequin’s head in place of a wig are a few wispy hairs, falling from her crown onto her shoulders like cobwebs. That the hairs seem to be real makes this image all the more disturbing, suggesting there was once living breathing female life in this frozen, de-personalised prop-woman.
Much of Wilkes’ practice is concerned with behavioural orders imposed on women, often informed by her own personal experiences. As the artist points out, the carefully selected objects in this exhibition, ‘relate more to the biological than the industrial.’
She adds: ‘Central to the feminine sphere is this notion of invisible labour, present in all aspects of everyday life yet kept outside of the systems of material and symbolic gratification.’ Wilkes’ feminine values and notions of female labour related to commodity evidently colour this installation and the selection of objects on display. Even so, the installation is still only partially conceptually cohesive. This enticing mock theatrical display compels viewers to peer into jars, fish tanks and cracks in the checkout, searching in vain for some clearer answers.