A herd of buffalo swarms down the wall, frozen in mid-descent. More
infestation than stampede, they invade the gallery space, en masse.
Undeniably humorous yet simultaneously tragic, these diminutive
beasts are driven by an onslaught of questions. Why are they here?
Do they follow like lemmings off the ledge, endangering them-selves
in the haste? Or have they assembled in protest, reclaiming these
walls as long-lost prairies, invading our space as we once invaded
Kia Neills recent sculpture does
not offer easy answers. Herding together collective ironies, she
explores the inexorable bond between domesticity and control with
playful wit and a caustic eye. In a number of pieces, she uses bison
as visual metaphor. Their story, a complex history of abuse, neglect
and protection, is underlined with a collective need to control.
From a treasured natural resource to
a pestilence standing in the way of progress, the American Bison
has witnessed many shifts in public standing. Once so great in number
they were thought to be in inexhaustible supply, the government
paid bounties for their disposal. Although at one time they were
hunted to the point of endangerment, the bison are now guarded and
maintained by that same government. The irony of their predicament
is succinctly illustrated in Kia Neills Buffalo Squirt
Gun. Here, a childs harmless squirt gun impales the miniature
bison, playfully binding him to the device of his own gruesome destruction
- a fitting portrait of cruelty borne of innocence.
In Buffalo Geyser, the once majestic
beast is harnessed with the trappings of make-shift technology.
Leashed to the wall with an extension cord, the creature patiently
stands by as the replicated geyser strapped to his back periodically
goes off. This miniature Old Faithful, regulated by household timers,
attracts its own tourists much like its famous counterpart at Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is one of the
governmentally protected areas where the beasts still roam, but
the geysers and the buffalo share more than this geographical bond.
Through the course of human intervention, they have both been relegated
to the realm of the predictable. As tourists, we gather and watch
in regulated intervals as water erupts from the earth. We take pictures
as majestic creatures saunter behind placards displaying their names.
In this interaction with the natural world, have we have domesticated
the wonder out of nature? Neill tempers the seriousness of this
inquiry with her distinct brand of humor.
In Betty Crocker, Neill shifts
her focus to a different brand of domesticity, where gendered, familial
ties bind cruelty and love. For this piece, the artist has set up
an enticing display of extremely unpalatable food. Using the conventions
of traditional cookbook photography, Neill draws on the namesake
of this piece as accomplice to her complex deception. At first glance
the delectable spread promises opulent indulgence, but upon inspection
of the accompanying diagram this homemakers dream becomes
a nightmare. The once promising fruit shake is revealed as moldy
maraschino cherries in curdled milk, and the rest of the meal follows
suit. As the role of nourishment is supplanted with something far
more sinister, the motivations behind the spread are called to question.
More disturbing than the revolting food, is the care with which
it was created. The oddly comic result plays with personal notions
of consumption, comfort and control.
We are introduced to a personification
of this conflict in Mommy Dearest. Leering through a sugary
frame is the title character, busily piping in the trappings of
her imprisonment. The too-sweet smile borders on menacing, and the
decorative flourishes hint at a maniacal drive. This piece not only
questions assumptions of gendered character and role, it brings
up another, more Freudian, conflict; how we reconcile the differences
between love and cruelty and protection and control.
Reclaiming individual experience in an
overly domesticated world is no simple (nor necessarily attainable)
task. In Kia Neills recent work, we are not given any remedies
to the predicament just a temporary reprieve. As the buffalo
cascade down the wall, there is a moment when disbelief is suspended.
During that brief interlude, the undeniable humor of the struggle
is clearly revealed, and we can look on in regained wonder.
Enter the Gallery