As the topic of my PhD thesis, I have a special interest in monstrous bodies in contemporary art, so I was particularly excited to make the acquaintance of Verity Whiter, a ridiculously interesting young artist who is just finishing her BFA at the Ruskin School of Fine Arts, University of Oxford. Working mainly in sculpture (though by no means exclusively), Verity’s work plays with the space between imagination and pathology in the construction of the human and animal body.
In the series above, Given Time, the artist models a grotesque headpiece made to look like glutinous rolls of flesh piled heavily on the back of her skull. Her smooth skin emphasizes the texture of its fatty crags; her slim body emphasizes its corpulent ridges. Although the silicone material gives the impression of hyper-realism, it does not appear that the artist is attempting to create a convincing illusion of a monstrously deformed head. Rather, the fleshy headpiece acts as a strange hat rather than a physical extension of her body, as if she’s actively trying to wear monstrosity as a fashion accessory. Verity seems to reject her own natural beauty in favor of a new ideal, which prizes an alternative and alien corporeality.
This work, which uses her own body, becomes even more interesting considered alongside her experiments with the animal body, as in the series Bullfinch, Catfish, Seallion, Stagbeetle. (More about these works after the jump…)
Playing with the absurd hybridity of some animals names, Verity reassembles tiny animal models to make delicate chimerical creatures. These are toys which children might play with in an alternative reality where there is just a little more fluidity between corporeal forms; a world which is not so difficult to imagine with the advent of genetic engineering. Although it is a sweeter, more whimsical version of monstrosity than the grotesque abberance of her Given Time series above, this series also treats the limits of the body with a similar irreverence, privileging the misshapen and unusual over beauty and normality.
The irreverence of the Bullfinch, Catfish, Seallion, Stagbeetle series is heightened by the use of brick dust in their display, as you can see in the bottom of the image of Stagbeetle (right) and Seallion (below). As she explains: “Technically it’s waste but the rich colour and soft sandy texture recall, for me, the very typical photographs of spices and coloured powders that often romanticise market stalls in eastern countries such as India. Also, dust or dried powders are often used in religious ceremonies as purifying agents or interventions to create space for reflection and thought. I wanted to play around with this murky interaction of reverence and irreverence.”
For me, the inclusion of the brick-dust with the figurines presents evidence of their making, reminding the viewer of this manufacturing process and casting Verity in a sort of Frankensteinian role as their monstrous creator. However, as the setting of the laboratory shifts to the artist studio, so too does the desire of the creator: instead of trying to create a physically perfect human and winding up with a monster like Dr. Frankenstein does, Verity tries to transform herself into something like the monstrous creatures she creates.
I’m so intrigued to see how Verity’s artistic practice will develop from here.
Images provided by the artist, but many can be found on her website, where you can also see more of her work.
Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:
- James Lomax’ inflatable skins
- Monstrous porcelain figurines by Shary Boyle
- Genetic hybrid faces by Ulric Collette
- Robert Liston and the spectacle of amputation