All sculpture relates to the body of the person looking at it: it takes up the space of another human, drawing comparisons between the two. In Wendy Mayer’s work, the comparison is an unnerving one. These uncannily realistic mannequins need to be encountered by stooping or kneeling, so that the viewer is reduced to a child’s perspective, and it’s in that engagement with the infant point of view that Mayer’s work acquires its strange force.
Children with unblinking glass eyes and rosy, innocent complexions stare back as though expectant of parental attention; their bodies are like half-completed toys, their crossed stitches demarcating shoulders, necks, toes, hearts. Stitching, and its associations with mending – whether toys, clothes, or human bodies – is a leitmotif in Mayer’s work. A family, gathered around an armchair as though preparing to pose for a family photo, embrace each other awkwardly: the mewling baby in the mother’s lap brandishes needles big enough to poke its parents’ eyes out.
Mayer has said that her work ‘plays with our perception of children as innocents’, and her sculptural dioramas draw parallels between childhood and violence; there’s fear lurking within. Mayer’s homage to artist Louise Bourgeois – the queen of the disquieting familial drama – takes the form of a giant ball of dark material, studded with pins. The artist’s head pokes out from atop a feathered collar, smiling to herself as though delighted with the unspooling disquiet around her.
Text by Ben Street