Why Don’t You: Exhibition Review

‘Why Don’t You’ by artist Olwyn Carroll at AIR Gallery

Art is weird. You can walk into a room and literally have no idea what you are looking at. ‘Why Don’t You’ took a little while to get used to. The room was very pink. Neon pink fabric, and neon pink paint spray surrounded me. The installation was full of weird shapes and even weirder noises, which pretty much summaries the weird work of Olwyn Carroll.

When looking at the work, which included videos and projections, I noticed the black wires, twisting and laying across the floor from the extension lead. Normally these are the hidden parts of the work, tucked away into the crevices of a wall, but here they were laid out, almost a tripping hazard. It was quite distracting. Were they suppose to be there? Were they a part of the work? They were black and mechanical, which stood out like a sore thumb against the pinks and unusual shapes of the rest of Carroll’s work. But, this is a minor niggle of an overall pretty impressive and totally freaky exhibition.

On entry into the first of two rooms, I saw dangling from the ceiling, sculptures made of polyfiller – that expanding type that becomes rock hard once dried. These twisty and tangled shapes were mixed with what seemed like random items, tins, fake extension-type hair, and fresh flowers. The sculptures burst into the room, protruding out of the walls and floor, and hanged low and freely.

Through these forms there are screens of videos and stills of sculptures and projections. I stopped and popped on some headphones to watch a video displayed on a busted Iphone screen. ‘Magnet – Clair’ was the name of the animation. You see one of Carroll’s signature Plasticine like characters, sat at what looks like an office desk. Wearing her clean white shirt, she taps her nails on the cold hard table, waiting for something. She picks up a head-set, and places this on her matted, thin hair. It’s strange, her face, although a puppet-like model, in a cartoon style, seems heavily maked-up, like she is trying to impress. Yet her hair is rough and weak. On the head-set a man speaks ‘please’ over and over.

At this stage, I am frantically trying to work out what the hell is going on in this exhibition. I don’t understand the video, or understand why it is mounted on one of these polyfiller sculptures. What does the polyfiller mean? Why is is so pink? So, I had to go against my ethos of waiting till the end to read the artist statement, I needed to know what it all meant!

”Why Don’t You’ presents a shawdow-land of pallide dissatisfaction, questioning how empathy is valued and understood in contemporary society. Emotions become a commodity, no longer sincere. Our heartfelt responses are merely reflections of our own sorry state. Identity is set in stone by online algorithms, a perpetual stream of pop-ups and Cookies that you cant even taste. Upon entering the space the viewer is presented to a world of something ‘other’… the viewer slowly becomes aware not only of the painful themes underpinning the work, but how it mirrors their own inner fears.’

So I moved into the second room, this part I thought, was much more engaging and relatable. The whole floor is covered in sand, so protective little blue slip on’s need to be worn. Within the sand, real flowers are placed. These flowers will die over time, ever-changing the look at feel of the room, as the exhibition continues. Here, two large screens show more of Olwyn Carroll’s animations.

The animations are warped, truly weird and surreal. There are different Plasticine characters, the one that took my attention the most was the female ‘model’. She had gorgeous flowing curly blonde hair, and she lay there in black lacy underwear, wrapped in Burberry, like she was on a fashion shoot. Hers, and the other characters eyes were closed. As the cliche says, eyes are the window to the soul, so having them closed is a barrier, like the characters are hiding, or in deep thought. Initally the chareacters faces are ‘normal’ – I say that with a pinch of salt – but I mean their skin colour was peach, their lips were pink etc.

The animation gets even more freaky when the characters start to remove their hair, and even creepier when they remove their faces! They take off the ‘normal’ face of peachy colours, to reveal their true colours underneath. They become naked, yet covered in colour. It is like they are pealing off the fake faces, the faces that conform to normality, to show their weird selves, the people they really are, underneath it all. What I notice too, is that their eyes are now open, but they start crying. It is like they are now revealing their true emotions. And it is here that is all clicks, the themes of the exhibition! The idea that we present a fake realness online, that we act differently as our online persona than our real beings. There may not be many people who know the ‘true’ you, cliche as it may sound. So much of our lives are online now, and we are the first generation dealing with that. Presenting ourselves a certain way constantly, as we seem to always be judged for everything we do, it’s now all documented online and all so important.

I guess that revealing motion, that first impressions vs the true self, all relate back to how I first viewed this exhibition. On first impressions, I had no idea what was going on. My reaction was based on the first view as you enter the room, the overall appearance of what seemed like a strange and untidy display. But as that characters peeled back their faces, and revealed what was underneath, so did the exhibition! I too became aware of everything. I found the true part of the work, and what it all meant – very clever.

Why Don’t you‘ is on at AIR Gallery, from 8th February till 2nd March. Find out more about Olwyn Carroll on her website.

Make sure you check out our What’s On Calendar for more exhibitions and events in Greater Manchester.

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