Rosie Gibbens’ sculptures are soft, cute and semi-interactive. The artist, clad in a constraining sheath dress and high heels, has activated this room of ‘soft girls’ in performances. Visitors to her show at the Zabludowicz Collection can also unroll a giant plushy tongue, attached to the wall by a mangel-like device, and use a foot pump to inflate one of the girls’ hands (a plastic glove).
The artist’s made inventive used of a combination of sex toys, clothing, office chairs and exercise equipment, plus a bunch of other found objects, to pull together her cute collection. They’re presented welcomingly: Gibbens’ performance was filmed, and, played back on a loop as part of the show, effectively gives us a how-to guide in manipulating the sculptures.
“Soft girls’, as well as being the name of the show, is also the name of an internet aesthetic that’s hyper-feminine, yielding, passive. “With Soft Girls, I want to use absurdity to give new life to these objectified bodies and gently mock archetypal depictions of gender and sexuality,” the artist says.
Gibbens’ interpretation of the aesthetic’s off-kilter. We need to crouch down to get the best look at most of the works; while the edge of the room has apparently welcoming white benches to sit on, they’re clad in wipe-clean plastic, and are just that bit too narrow to perch on comfortably. While the soft sculptures might look friendly and cute, there’s an edge of tongue-in-cheek (and tongue-elsewhere) sleaze. What better to illustrate that mood than The Human Centipede, pictured below? If you need to Google that name… please consider not Googling!
Gibbens has cited Dorothea Tanning and Louise Bourgeois as influences, and there’s definitely something of those midcentury trailblazers in her righteous upending of stereotypes of domestic servitude.. More directly, she says Clemente Susini’s 18th century Anatomical Venus models, beautiful figures with their guts exposed, intended for medical training, set the mood for this show. Though with all that fabric, those high heels and the loopy subversion of sexual tropes, I thought of an artist much closer to home: Sarah Lucas.
“Though my work has humorous elements, I think it marries dark and light,” Gibbens added in a recent interview to Artlyst. “I was imagining the Venuses coming to life through the horror genre to seek revenge for the way they were originally portrayed in passive, sometimes violated positions…. these girls are playing with their identity around that stereotype and being irreverent towards it. That’s my approach, too.”
Rosie Gibbens: Soft Girls is at the Zabludowicz Collection (London). 01 July - 15 August 2021