• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Review: Poor Things at Fruitmarket

ByHannah Udall

Mar 30, 2023
"6. Poor Things installation view", Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, 2023, photo by Tom Nolan.

Poor Things is a captivating exhibition, consisting of a selection of sculptures from many artists. The works were collated by Emma Hart and Dean Kenning, who selected pieces which explore ideas about social class, gender and race. This collection questions how identity interacts with artistic processes and interpretation. The collectors chose these works to be accessible; those made from ordinary materials, and those which impact the viewer regardless of art knowledge.

The works are densely packed into the space which feels overstimulating. Some sculptures are made of disused materials, such as A NEW HEADS ON THE BLOCK & ROPE A DOPE KIDNEY PUNCH UPDATE MEAL DEAL AKA THE WORLD BELONGS TO THOSE WITH GOOD TEETH AKA SELL A LUNG TO FEED THE KIDS AKA TYPE IV FUN AKA DAMN YOUR SPAM WE WANT BEEF AND WELCOME TO THE NEGATIVE AFFECTIVITY DOMAIN 2.0 OR SHOULD THAT BE A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF EQUALITY CONTROL IN A CIRCULAR HOLDING PATTERN OR HEAD LUNG DEAD AND OLD NED MOB, 2023 by Beagles & Ramsay and Teen, 2019, Fresh, 2017 and Perforated, 2015 by Linda Aloysius. Other sculptures are made of household items, for example Those Whose Souls Resist Repossession, 2016, Millie, Reg, The Hammer, 2012 and Tea Horse, 2010 by Andrew Cooper. Some sculptures bring the theme ‘modes of human entertainment’ into the gallery; works such as Sulkamania, 2019/2023 by Aled Simons, a caricature of a crazy golf contraption in the shape of a golfer and Oblivion, 2021 by Rosie McGinn, a collection of fabric people in wacky proportions on a theme park ride.

“3. Poor Things installation view”, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, 2023, photo by Tom Nolan.

All these different works have a common theme in the way they seemed to grow directly from life as it is lived. These sculptures take life as their inspiration, they are relatable and understandable by the majority and less focused on abstraction and aestheticism. I am not sure I would describe any of the sculptures as ‘conventional’ or ‘aesthetically pleasing’, yet all elicited a reaction.

In particular Renaissance Man, 2017 by Dean Kenning made me uncomfortable. It is a moving man-like figure with a trough for a body, crouched on all fours. The sculpture mechanically moved up and down without really ‘moving’ anywhere. The mechanisation of the man made me think of the dehumanisation of the workforce in the industrial revolution and still in many sectors today. The futility of the sculpture’s movements made me think about the difficulty of progress when people are trapped in a cycle of low skilled jobs with low income. It made me feel depressed and hopeless.

Another sculpture that elicited a strong reaction was Pervading Animal (Variant 23), 2023 by Lee Holden. This work was a selection of electrical wires, plumbing materials and other ‘useful’ urban objects displayed in the gallery. The different colours and shapes of the materials gave the sculpture a playfulness. This contrasted with the reality of having to implement your own home-improvements by using these objects manually. It made me contemplate on how privilege allows these objects to be seen from a superficial perspective, rather than one related to utility.

“5. Poor Things installation view”, Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, 2023, photo by Tom Nolan.

Eat Me Now, 2015 by Chila Kumari Singh Burman is another fascinating sculpture. It is a glitzy 3D ice cream and the fun and frivolity of the patterned, glittery sculpture clashes with the reality of working many hours for low income as an ice cream vendor. However, my initial reaction could be misplaced; I may be projecting my assumption that lower paid jobs are synonymous with unhappiness and this is not always the case. Alternatively, the decorated ice cream could represent small moments of pleasure in everyday life and could be asking the question ‘how does social class change how one sees and experiences pleasure?’.

This exhibition caused me to react in completely different ways to the various artworks on display. The selection causes your mind to brim with ideas and associations, and encourages you to contemplate how your own lived experience influences your perspective of art. 

I recommend this exhibition to all, and believe everyone can gain something from these works.

Image Credits: All photographs are taken by Tom Nolan, courtesy of Fruitmarket’s Press Release package.