'Kate Davis Three pictures at an exhibition, one pink plinth … and you' (Sunday Herald, 05/12/2004)
Taking part in the Country Grammar exhibition recently, Kate Davis showed a work which consisted of two frames drawings and a wooden plinth. It was mystifying in isolation from the rest of the artist’s work, so I looked forward to learning more in her solo show at Sorcha Dallas.
As it turns out, the solo show consists of three framed drawings and a wooden plinth, and even that barely fits in the compact gallery space. But it concentrates your mind to be squeezed in with art which has been designed to inhabit such a small white cube.
Davis has used the space cleverly, presenting you with a choice as soon as you walk in the door. A puce-pink wooden platform almost fills the floor-space, and most timid gallery goers will step carefully around it, perhaps sitting gingerly on its edge. More interactive types will step up onto it, giving themselves an entirely different relationship with the drawings on the walls.
When you get up there, it strikes you immediately that the plinth, stretching out underneath you, is echoed in the biggest of the three pictures. And if the plinth in the drawing is a reflection of the one you’re on, then the over-0confident flesh-pink wine bottle must be you. It leans back, chest puffed out and tea-cup belly on proud display, before what might be a mirror.
In another drawing, a bent, broken wine glass has toppled from its plinth. The wine which spills from its shattered bowl forms a long, creeping tongue-shape on the ground. While this might be a pathetic, broken image, two little spoon-shaped arms sit defiantly against the glass’s stem, like a person with hands on hips. It reminds me a little of Pixar’s first computer animation, of a family of desk-lamps which, despite their lack of human features, demonstrated the full emotional range by virtue of their movements.
By using the bottle, cap and wine glass, Davis taps into a long artistic tradition. Vessels have been used to represent the human form since Plato’s times. In many cultures the vessel also specifically represents the feminine. The womb, after all, is the ultimate vessel. In the third drawing, the image of a flat, perforated spoon is cut through by a pink butterknife. The sexual symbolism is fairly easy to spot. The use of domestic implements to represent the human figure is another nod in the direction of gender politics. But the overall effect is not one of victimization or complaint. The metal spoon cheekily salutes the looming knife, the shattered glass refuses to admit defeat, and the pregnant wine bottle surveys her own image, like Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, with regal certainty.
A suffragette attacked the Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver in 1914. While this is not to be recommended, Davis does place the power balance between you and her drawings in your own hands. By stepping onto the gallery plinth you can choose to tower over the pictures, but at the same time you become an art object to be scrutinized. Like it or not, you are a participant.