Provocative Plastic Cast in Bronze
Brandy at Jason Vass by Nettie Wakefield
Through July 21st
By Genie Davis
With Brandy, at Jason Vass through July 21st, London-based artist Nettie Wakefield has created a provocative exhibition that focuses on things plastic – but is cast in bronze or created in the most detailed pencil drawings.
The titular subject of the show, Brandy epitomizes a fully inflated, petite sex doll. She is depicted in wall art and as sculptural art. She has a small nipple for an air pump to fit on the back of her body. Leg raised, braid flying as if she were about to become animate and leap, partially deflated breasts sagging, Brandy’s image is 3-D a sculpture mounted on a wall. She lies seemingly exhausted and crumpled, outstretched on a sofa in a sculptural installation in the center of the gallery, surrounded by empty wine glasses, an open Mac Book, the box from which she was sprung, a crumpled pair of men’s pants.
Pencil sketches feature her with doll-like, yet oddly alive eyes and Barbie-like hair with a glossy texture. These meticulous drawings are lush and strange, the body of the doll depicted crumpled like fabric. Demonstrating the plasticity of contemporary society – from aesthetic to moral – Brandy is the rendering of a cultural and sculptural metamorphosis.
Wakefield’s commentary here is on the disposal nature of our lives and souls. Whether cast in bronze or immortalized in a beautifully detailed pencil drawing, the character that is Brandy is still eminently disposable. She is disposable because she is not perceived of as real, rather as a personification of male imagination. She is disposable because she is female, and while her mouth is agape, she can issue no protest or passion. She is disposable because her “real life” form is plastic, a substance that is rapidly filling both earth and oceans with its detritus. And finally, she is disposable because she makes us uncomfortable.
She is the embodiment of an object to be used. Of a relationship to be shaped, formed, controlled, deflated. She is hung on a wall, she is flung on a couch. She is a commodity rendered to be perfect and mute, the ultimate in satisfaction that is eventually completely unsatisfying. Perhaps she represents the precursor to a sex doll that is robotic, something out of Blade Runner, made more real yet without the mess of humanity. Or perhaps she represents the lack of perfection in ourselves, the always-shifting description that means perfect, the unattainable ideal.
Most of all, the works that Wakefield creates here represent vulnerability: how easy it is to discard someone or something viewed as “less than.” Less than human, less than us, less than perfect, less than real. And how easy it is to discount ourselves, as well – for being less than the way we wish to be seen. We are not that perfect body, that air-inflated image of sexuality or even beauty. We deflate. We sag. We are broken. We are, as members of the human race, much less as members of the female sex, of uncertain value to others and to ourselves.
All this said, Brandy is an inherently entertaining take on these themes. The bronze sculptural works shine and are such a visual and visceral draw in their tactile nature, in their almost impossible crumpled state, that the gallery offers cloth gloves to those who long to touch the surface and experience its texture. The drawings that Wakefield constructs are technically as perfect as their subject could be, a wonderful mix of hard and soft, firm and deflated – much like humans themselves. Do we see humanity in the inhuman? Do we think of ourselves as not real?
What are we if not mutable? What are we if our souls are gone and it is just our flesh – or our plastic approximation of same – cast in bronze?
Wakefield, whose works have been shown in Banksy’s Dismaland, and who has worked to promote women working within creative industries under the hashtag #KodakWoman, uses traditional techniques from drawing to bronze casting to create her rather astonishing images of things – and emotions – that are all too easily discarded. We may be the detritus left behind in our own worlds, but Wakefield will show us just how permanent even our waste can be.
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