Californian artist Liz Craft is best known for her witty, surreal sculptures imbued with the hazy, hallucinatory aesthetic of Venice Beach smoke shops, where cartoons might become incarnate. At Real Fine Arts, her signature bright colours are somewhat muted to match a dreamy, candlelit atmosphere.
Two life-size figures are suspended close together in the furthest corner of an otherwise sparsely installed gallery. Like Siamese twins, Wendy and Lisa (all works 2016) share a single black and white polka-dot skirt, but wear separate black T-shirts. Their wooden limbs are loosely jointed with metal rings, while layers of newspaper clippings cover their hands and court shoes. The two bodies hang limp like puppets in a shop window, swinging gently in an air-conditioning draft; one can almost hear them whisper the show’s title, ‘Blow Me’. The figures’ heads have been modelled with life-like accuracy in papier mâché: nose, cheeks and bone structure appear remarkably real; their seductively supple facial contours recall the sculptures of Alina Szapocznikow. But their skin, also composed of collaged newspaper clippings, shatters this illusion: a torn crossword puzzle obscures all but the ‘H’ in a black and white photograph of Los Angeles’s famous Hollywood sign; isolated words emerge – ‘Los’, ‘Garage’, ‘Business’ – from news columns illegibly shredded and layered. Each figure bears six mascara-coated eyes, cut from glossy magazines, that look unnaturally alien; their crowns of coiled, plaited white hair appear theatrically human, a kind of drag-queen chic.
Wendy and Lisa are part of a new breed of female, born from commodity culture: animated shop mannequins whose sole purpose is passively to wear their purchases. Despite their confident stares, they lack autonomy; their limp, skeletal bodies are little more than fashion accessories. Theirs is a condition with which many women today, overtly sexualized as they are by brand marketing, can empathize. Craft’s earlier, fantastical, often childlike sculptures of marginal, countercultural characters – clowns and mermaids, for instance – celebrate otherness, augmenting the bodily strangeness of figures that don’t quite fit in. In this vein, Wendy and Lisa seems to suggest that capitalism has pacified women, transforming them into consumers with no political agency.
In the artist’s ‘Mushroom Bubble’ series, ceramic speech bubbles initially appear to emanate from the suspended figures, as if articulating their thoughts. Computer Love 2 & 3, obsessively inscribed with Xs and Os in mottled blue glaze, recalls a romantic text message. Craft has drawn a playful smiley face with her finger on the clay surface of Mushroom Bubble (Black); Mushroom Bubble (Turquoise) glistens with seductive candy pink as well as the titular aquamarine. Long-stemmed clay mushrooms spout from both tile works, their caps bearing flickering candles that gently illuminate their glazed surfaces. Devoid of words, the sculptures evoke smartphone message bubbles bearing emoticons and emoji fungi. The works’ pictorial speech – the same language we now use to communicate both intimate and throwaway sentiments on corporate-owned digital platforms – truncates love (‘xoxo’) for the sake of expedience, and avoids the bind of linguistic specificity. Yet, the sculptures’ warm, romantic glow, unlike the synthetic glare of a mobile phone screen, gives this artificial sentimentality a mesmerizingly organic effect. We live in a world where technology has shaped not only the way we communicate, but also the way we formulate our identity. Craft seems to question what fulfilment digital platforms can really bring, when our bodies have become clotheshorses and our deepest feelings strings of single letters.
First published in Issue 181