How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?
-Mary Shelley, "Preface", 1831 edition of Frankenstein
In the hands of Edinburgh-based artist and sculptor Jessica Harrison, maidens turn themselves inside-out, entrails spilling on porcelain petticoats. Fleshy, hairy skin is molded into tiny corpulent furniture for a dollhouse-sized Hannibal Lecter. With the vulnerability of the body always as a central theme, her work is not for the easily-made-queasy.
Her fancy figurine ladies-in-peril are reconstituted from found mass-produced porcelains, at once allowing the viewer both a sense familiarity of the precious and a tinge of hardcore gore.
"This is hopefully what catches people's eyes--the familiar brittle ornamental object that suddenly feels a bit more bodily and fleshy," says Harrison, "I wanted to make a series of work that was based on that connection with the figure in sculpture but also to explore what happens when it breaks down, when it becomes dislocated."
The sweetness of the miniature for many suggests grandmotherly Hummel collections behind glass cabinets, off-limits to touch. But Harrison insists that her work is not only about the visual but the tactile sense as well: "You can be drawn to an object because of tactility in it even though you know you can't touch it. We only truly know things through touch and seek to verify what we suspect through our fingertips--but touch often changes our idea of something. This is a powerful urge to capture in sculpture, and more engaging than working from the purely visual."
Charlotte, 2010, mixed media, 23cm x 15cm x 15cm @Jessica Harrison. Courtesy of the artist.
Caroline, 2010, mixed media, 23cm x 15cm x 15cm @Jessica Harrison. Courtesy of the artist.
Her choice of the delicate female body contradicts the traditional use of the male figure historically used in sculpture, and with internal organs on display, proves that on the inside, we all look the same.
For her miniature furniture pieces she embraces the feel of the flesh even more literally. When asked what media and methods are used to create them she replies, "The furniture pieces are cast from the palms of my hands so the fingerprints you see covering them are mine. It is not real skin, but it is real hair. I experimented for a long time with different materials to get something that looked as close to skin as possible so I can't give away my secret recipe... [They] are particularly unsettling as they can fit so snugly in the hand or in other crevices of the body. This makes them seem more monstrous perhaps than if they were full-scale furniture pieces--the fact that they camouflage so well into your own body. You have to get really close to miniatures so you can get a good look at them and by then it is too late, they are already right next to you before you realize you are looking at skin, hair and teeth."
The use of what seems like the corporal as material is shocking and allows us to reconsider our relationships with the familiar. Take, for example, an armchair.
"The works are often incredibly fragile and delicate, describing the smallest trace of a body on an object: a hair, a touch, a fingerprint. They examine our everyday relationships with the things around us, looking at the delicate traces we leave behind and how this can affect our relationship to objects and to others."
Cabinet, 2009, mixed media, 17cm x 8cm x 4cm @Jessica Harrison. Courtesy of the artist.
Sofa, 2009, mixed media, 15cm x 7cm x 7cm @Jessica Harrison. Courtesy of the artist.
To see more of Jessica Harrison's latest work, as well as upcoming exhibition dates in NY and LA, visit http://www.jessicaharrison.com/
Anne B. Kelly is an artist and the founder of femalepersuasion.net