In the entrance hall to the gallery one is greeted by a delicately executed gouche painting featuring an ornate vintage plate on which sits the gnarled foot of a chicken. Hardly a sight to whet the appetite but Emily Stainer’s talent for prettifying the grotesque, renders the image surprisingly charming, in an old-worldly way. Adjacent to this artwork is a sepia photograph by Alison Kearney that presents a rural idyll populated by women resplendent in garments from a bygone era, similarly conjuring up an ambience closely affiliated with Victoriana. This creates the impression that the art of
Transfixed by the process in which meaning is assigned to objects,
This unconventional artwork articulates a laissez faire approach to art-making in which the artist surrenders agency, allowing the public to have a hand at engineering the content and removing her desire to inculcate spectators with her perception of reality. This may be a brave and risky undertaking but with art’s meaning so reliant on viewers’ interpretation one could argue that it is audiences who ultimately confer art with significance. Even though
Just as French philosopher Rene Descartes attempted to suspend his beliefs so that he could approach reality from a fresh perspective, one senses that
Stainer’s art on the other hand sees her configuring an object to reveal the influence cultural producers wield over society, instilling fear and reinforcing moral codes. Her meticulously executed brand of painting – which can no doubt be attributed to her spell at the Courtauld Institute of Art in
Aside from the title of this series of works – Cautionary Tale – the connection between Stainer’s plates of dismembered body parts and children’s fairytales is ambiguous. If Stainer has indeed sought to mine this literary canon she may have chosen a more direct vehicle to articulate her concepts. Her art is also repetitive; each artwork a variation of a single image. This leaves one with the impression that she has not accessed the nuances or intricacies of her subject matter. The same can be said of her Cautionary Tales: Cages series that once again sees dismembered body parts - women's legs - situated in a normalised environment, in this instance inside ornate Victorian cages.
However, Stainer’s art is not completely devoid of cunning strategies. She has achieved the unthinkable by rendering mutilated animal or body parts in such a way that they are not grotesque, thereby alluding to the manner in which threatening actions in fairytales are almost stripped of malice. The idea that child abuse is introduced to kids through bedtime stories is a fascinating concept to explore; does it prepare children for the evil that lurks in the adult population or does it normalise mistreatment? - The Sunday Independent (January 27)