Thierry Goldberg is pleased to present The Doll Chronicles, Jennifer O’Connell’s first solo exhibition. The exhibition opens on March 31st, with a reception from 6-8 and will run through April 29.
Jennifer O’Connell’s miniature domestic worlds set spells on you, whether you want them to or not. Imagine: doll self-assembly and femme overflow. One becomes transfixed as they stare their way through O’Connell’s arresting portraits of solitary contemplation. In mystical and relatable scenescapes, the artist depicts warm, disheveled, well-worn bathrooms and kitchens, tubs and couches, a domesticated coterie of sentient hamsters, rabbits and dogs, to invite us into lush thought. O’Connell’s work is at once cerebral and also corporeal and material. To see her work is to be deeply reminded that life’s purpose is to feel all the things, in all the ways.
The exhibition is comprised of sculpture, video instillation, and photography, ballpoint pen drawings, watercolor paintings -- mediums that allow for different kinds of observation and immersion. In most works, the centrepieces are the dolls who live in these spaces, artfully doctored to represent facets of the artist herself, and the places emotionally and physically, she has lived in and wants to remember. And remember she does, first for herself, and now for our benefit. Each mascara applicator, Russian stacking doll, partly eaten donut and kitchen tile, each discarded, bloody tampon, journal, book and self-portrait on the wall is strangely delightful and grounding. The hearts, lungs, pulsing organs on a bathroom scale, are more startling, but not to the dolls in their midst.
Clay and paint, needle, thread and cloth, cardboard and glue are the simple materials that bring us into feminine excess and mess, and the skeletons and stop watches, Magic 8 balls and lighters invoke a non-spectacular approach to trauma as it is processed, prayed on, and lived with. These scenes could be after a personal horror, or an apocalypse. And what does one wear in the aftermath? Jean shorts, fishnets, a t-shirt, leg warmers -- or only a hand knit shrug. The dolls’ fashion is a love letter to working class traditions of domestic dress -- bricolage, high-low, homemade and Amazon bought, the loving way women dress for themselves and create sensual statements seen only by plants, pets, and mirrors.
O’Connell’s art is sensual self-making, for oneself by oneself. One cannot see these ornate articulations of a room of one’s own, without understanding the preciousness of having a mind of one’s own, and reflecting on how each can be roomy, or too full. Do not be fooled by the dominant practice of lounging in these sculpted spaces: the self is assembled, and disassembled here, at once still and excruciatingly active.
We understand such activity. Many of us grew up in a rich toy culture where we learned to manipulate and reimagine, to see ourselves in plastic avatars. We subverted their original intentions and used such toys to enact the experiences and experiments we wanted or had. Many of us also were brought up in a pedagogy of seeing ourselves through interacting with dolls. We cut their hair, dressed them up, and lived partly, in them. O’Connell’s work elevates this tradition and validates it, all the worlds we made to escape and reflect the ones we lived. How, in making sets, and selves, we lived through dolls, and became something else. To see O’Connell’s sets is to be struck with childhood nostalgia and invited into adult spaces of daydreaming.
O’Connell’s dolls also subvert and elevate the doll, giving us forms we don’t need to imagine differently. They are deeply sensual, thoughtful, sentient. The artist draws affectively on 80s movies from her childhood: Kelly Lebrock from Weird Science, Suzanne Sommers, Traci Lords, and iconic 80s-era pop artists -- Whitney Houston, Madonna. They are sexy but not contemporarily pornographic, they are crafted but not blow up – they are a feminist’s feminine. They are their own love objects, taken up with far more than being seen.
Jennifer O’Connell (b. 1978 Bay Shore, New York) lives and works in New York, NY. She holds a BFA from Purchase College, NY and an MA from City University of New York. This is her first exhibition with Thierry Goldberg Gallery.