This article originally appeared in ArtsBrum
Within the Victorian confines of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery sits a curated exhibition that excels in the bizarre. The brilliant artist Rachel Maclean has turned her eye to the often dismissed and derided subject of ‘cuteness’ and its position in the modern world. The exhibition consists of two rooms with a film by the artist in one and the curated paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations and objects that tread the line of sweet and sinister from the Arts Council and Birmingham Collections in the other.
Maclean’s film is as entrancing as it is repulsive, with the artist playing a monstrous, ‘care-bear’ character named ‘Dr Cute’ who strives to explain cuteness and its effect on contemporary society but is constantly hindered by abrupt emotional responses to the ‘cute’ items that surround it. Dr Cute attempts to run through how cuteness thrives in a contemporary consumerist and commercialised capitalist neo-liberal world, yet is undone by an onslaught of love, repulsion and fear as sickly-sweet items overwhelm her. The film deals with its subject matter in bombast fashion, drawing laughter and disgust from the viewer, whilst being deadly serious at the core; these objects and images are, to Maclean, “fundamental to our experience of consumer capitalism” and have an emotional control over our lives. The film ties cute images and objects on our phones, toys and logos to a remedy for anxiety, for people who are overworked and under slept, building to a crescendo of cuteness overriding the frame and the Doctor, leading to the exclamation that it is all “TOO CUTE!”
Once the four minutes of film have finished, you are invited through the mouth of the exhibition and into its belly, and you are swallowed by a myriad of mediums all toeing between sweet and sinister. Maclean is seeking to overwhelm you, to tear a reaction from you, to make you question what is put in front of you on a daily basis. The four pastel coloured walls envelop an almost nightmarish scene, as puppets and dolls rise from the yellow pixel-podiums in the centre of the room, surrounded by guinea pigs, 5 massive portraits of a young child, Victorian dolls and an internet-based installation that lends a unique aural atmosphere to the space. The works span thousands of years, with Chancay textile dolls from 1000-1400AD sharing space with David Shrigley drawings, and an ancient Egyptian Mud Monkey is found amongst paintings by G.F.Watts and Peter Blake, suggesting that cuteness is a phenomenon that has spanned generations and civilisations. This eclectic collection is tied together as similar themes link neighbouring works, and whilst it is an intense experience, much thought and care has gone into its conception and construction.
‘Too Cute!’ is at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from Saturday the 26th of January to Sunday the 12th of May 2019, and it is a curational experience like no other, the works are dressed in Maclean’s unique style and vision and you are in awe and unease from the moment you pass under the jaws of the room.