An exhibition by Grace Kevill-Davies
Friday 12th of December
Accompanying essay by Amy-Clare McCarthy:
HOPE FLOATS – GRATIFICATION SINKS
A lonely hotel, a blinking neon vacancy sign, an ominous, enormous full moon illuminating the scene. We could well be watching the opening to a B-grade horror film, but actually we’re looking at Vacancy—no, not the B-grade horror film starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson—the installation by Grace Kevill-Davies.
Kevill-Davies penchant for found titles (usually borrowed from films and often deliberately misconstrued for comic affect) complements her use of found objects. Small in scale, the objects are arranged as a diorama to create their own tiny worlds. She favours items that are generic, which could be placed in a number of scenes and not look displaced. They are representational and suggestive, but aren’t specific enough to limit our readings of them. Positioned as they are, her works function like small stage sets. Vacancy for example, suggests a scene about to unfold; the isolated hotel is a familiar trope rife in uninspired films where we know the ending almost as soon as we see the beginning.
Dioramas and miniatures themselves have an ‘essential theatricality’ that mean they become ‘a stage on which we project, by means of association and intertextuality, a deliberately framed series of actions.’1 We read miniatures as spaces for action based on our own points of reference; their primary fascination is in the imagination of this action. Kevill-Davies uses this to her advantage: knowing we experience the miniature as a space or a tableau that resists ‘expository closure’2, she adds narrative clues that leave us confused. For Kevill-Davies, one of the appealing aspects of doing this is the potential for viewers to create their own absurd narratives from her staged arrangements.3
An important aspect of the miniature is that we understand that it is completely constructed; it is not a natural phenomenon, but a controlled world where everything within it is deliberately placed.4 Kevill-Davies has taken time to specifically consider all elements of its creation. Even a log floating in a lake takes on enormous significance, but again we are left without knowing quite what that is. Pretty Woman, another small scene – this time depicting an old, pink, claw-foot bath with an unexpected item sitting in it – has a strong suggestion of narrative. We are left curious about the exact circumstances, and why there might be a turd in the bath. This work also has a peculiar use of scale; the small bathroom scene sits atop a life-sized pipe, which anchors this work more than the others to a lived reality.
To return to humour; an unexpected turd in the bath is always funny, provided it’s not your bath (which it might be, I heard this work was inspired by a story about a friend of a friend). The titles of the works add to the joke, Kevill-Davies has said she likes to use them as a device to change expectations, juxtaposing the known movie names with her own narratives. 5 Her sense of play is obvious; she toys with our expectations and the miniatures themselves are comparable to toys due to their size. We relate to these works as we would toys, seeing them creates the desire to play in them and give them life.
What is compelling about these small worlds is also what makes them frustrating; we can imagine the scene, but we can never take part in this miniature world. ‘The observer is offered a transcendent and simultaneous view of the miniature, yet is trapped outside the possibility of a lived reality of the miniature’.6 God-like, we watch over these scenes, able to animate them in our minds, but we can never be a part of them.
A natural extension of Kevill-Davies’s objects is the video works that realise the miniatures as small sets. The use of video allows the artist to add the experience of time and create a ‘heightened sense of the absurd through using duration’.7 Moments of suspense and tension are built through exploiting cinematic conventions, but the payoff is absent. This is most apparent in the video Hope Floats; where hope (spelled out in roses), actually just floats. And floats. And floats. And keeps floating. The experience is frustrating. The single note of sound held throughout the video leaves us permanently on the brink, always waiting for the music to break and something to happen, but (spoiler alert) it doesn’t. We are denied a climax or any substantial narrative at all and instead only given the conventions that lead us to expect them.
Proving Kevill-Davies viewing habits are broader than bad films from the 1990s, Deep Impact parodies a work by Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX. It ‘meticulously documents the gradual flooding of a hand-made, to-scale, detailed replica of a McDonald’s restaurant. It is shot and edited expertly, generating deadpan hilarity and unlikely dramatic build-up.’8 That’s a description of the work by SUPERFLEX. In Kevill-Davies’s version instead of a life size replica of a fast food restaurant we have a tiny one. Slick production values are lost in favour of a DIY aesthetic; a rather imperfect handmade hamburger floats up. SUPERFLEX creates an artificial reality that could be mistaken for the real thing; Kevill-Davies creates a world that revels in its own silly artifice. Where SUPERFLEX consider our fascination with blockbuster disaster movies as well as real life disaster footage, Kevill-Davies is more interested in our expectations as viewers when watching these. What we anticipate and react to in a film; what excites us even as we know it is coming. It is these expectations that Kevill-Davies is able to subvert, and that form the crux of her work.
Worlds within worlds, referencing other worlds. We are captivated and sucked in by Kevill-Davies’ worlds, but just as we must always have the frustration of being permanently outside of the miniature, we always have the frustration of being permanently caught in a suspended moment that leads us nowhere.
1 Stewart, Susan. 2003. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press, p54
2 Stewart, Susan. 2003. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press, p66
3 Kevill-Davies, Grace. 2013. “My everyday silver is plastic: play and found objects in contemporary art.” Honours thesis, Queensland University of Technology,
Queensland. p 22
4 Stewart, Susan. 2003. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press, p55
5 Kevill-Davies, Grace, visual artist, in conversation, 4 December 2014.
6 Stewart, Susan. 2003. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press, p66
7 Decter, Joshua. 2010. SUPERFLEX. Artforum International, Vol.48 (8), pp.199-200.
Image credits: Louis Lim