Review: Starkers – Davy and Kristin McGuire at Williamson Art Gallery

Starkers – Davy and Kristin McGuire
at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum. Sunday 1 November- Sunday 22 November 2015

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by artinliverpool.

Pauline, the charming but confrontational statue, is a sure fire way to completely reinvent how you think about figurative sculpture. This short film by Davy and Kristin McGuire explores the relationship we hold with sculpture from the perspective of the statue. On some levels it is a very well told joke, but on others it is an incredible question to ask of an eternity of gallery goers – a question rarely put to the gallery going public.

Why are we so obsessed with the human form that we’ve become paradoxically indifferent to it? This question asked over ten minutes of emotive, often humorous dialogue by Giulio Tadolini’s Pauline Borghese Boneparte stops us in our tracks, wondering how we have walked past this same sculpture time and time again, stopping only to ogle her in ways we would never allow ourselves to ogle something that could talk back. In a sense the work makes us feel guilty and voyeuristic, but forgives us for that too.

The installation feels so much like a performance that you start to associate with the endurance of poor Pauline, stood starkers for thousands of years – “outlived empires and dictators”. She reminds us too of her fragility, the fragility of all the artworks lost to poor judgement and destruction, intentional or otherwise, through the years, but still we walk past her almost ignorant of her existence. Until this film. A film that sets her in a new light, which can’t be ignored, on a pedestal that manifests as her stage. She is no longer just a representation of a woman, but of the woman. The sculptors ideal, borrowing bits from sitters and life models, and plopping a “dead princesses head” on her shoulders as a finishing touch, just because he could.

Pauline makes us consider ourselves, our habits and our understanding. Specifically of how we observe, and how we allow ourselves too often to forget about the frailty of our lives, which Pauline thinks “seems truly lovely.”

Do you ever find yourself thinking Photoshop is a new thing? The technology might be, but the idea was there in 1842. Simple things continuously make up complex new questions in a way which is critical to understanding not just this work, but in how artists approach sculpture, applying narratives to shroud their work in, in order to keep us looking. The script, by Richard Hurford, allows Pauline the narrative she has always deserved.

I hope this kindness can be extended to other sculptures in the gallery, and works in the museum. It is an idea that deserves to be heard and seen in as many locations as possible as it truly defined our relationship with history, bringing it to life in a beautifully humble and humane tale – and from where I’m standing, that seems truly lovely.