Curator Eric Fischl corrupts innocence and reveals a darker side of childhood in ‘Disturbing Innocence’
At first glance, Disturbing Innocence looks to be a ramshackle collection of discarded dolls, toys and mannequins, but at a closer look, it is far more sinister. Like a nightmare in which all your toys have come to life, the beheaded dolls, mummified Barbies and ashen-black newborns reveal a dark, twisted innocence. Curated by Eric Fischl, the exhibition is inspired by his own upbringing in the far reaches of Port Washington, Long Island. Haunted by suburbia, the paintings of eerie cul-de-sacs, neatly trimmed hedgerows and tautly pulled curtains are reminiscent of Pleasantville. But these same depictions of ostensible order and innocence crop up again, yet this time, they are disrupted by army tanks and enveloping floods. From the Barbies whose vacuous eyes have been gouged out to the paintings of cherub-like girls doused in thick, black mascara and sticky pink lipgloss, Disturbing Innocence is reminiscent of a childhood marred by lonely consumption. Joined by 58 historical and contemporary artists, Fischl’s exhibition sedates and disturbs in equal measure.
Could you tell us about the exhibition and the key themes?
Eric Fischl: Disturbing Innocence's use of dolls, toys, mannequins, robots, and other surrogates forms an interesting genre. This exhibition examines questions surrounding social constructs of youth, beauty, transformation, violence, sexuality, gender, identity, and loneliness. Further, it raises questions about the effects of a youth-obsessed culture.
Would you say that the exhibition seeks to disturb innocence – if so, do you see this transformation as irreversible?
Eric Fischl: Disturbing Innocence is a sword that cuts both ways. Is the exhibition challenging and disruptive to our notions of childhood innocence, or is it positing that childhood is, in itself, disturbed? The experience of each artwork in the show pulls the viewer in a variety of directions – some humorous, playful and tender – some not so much.
How was the exhibition inspired by your own suburban upbringing in Port Washington, Long Island?
Eric Fischl: We are all a product of the environment we grew up in. My work explores the subversive and escapist world at odds with the values and pretensions of polite society, and many of participating artists are from the same generation who grew up in the suburbs and their work reflects their own reactions to the picture perfect pretence of a suburban upbringing.
What do the images of beheaded dolls and mummified barbies seek to represent?
Eric Fischl: There is no single interpretation to the art in this show but each work resonates with memories and feelings I think most of us can recognise and empathise with. There comes a point in children's lives as they begin to distance themselves from their parents and develop their own distinct identities, that they destroy, harm, and mutilate their toys. This is a significant transitional stage in a child's development. I think, in the case of the mummified Barbies and other works in the show by women artists, there is a further examining/challenging of the stereotypes of women's roles as mothers, homemakers, and objects of desire. Why adult male artists are playing with dolls is a more troubling and confusing issue. I put the show together in hopes of raising some of questions for which I don't have the answers.
Would you say the exhibition depicts the darker undercurrents of modern day American life?
Eric Fischl: Yes. Why, in the most powerful and richest nation in the world, at a time when America leads the world in science and technology, are many of its most talented artists playing with dolls? This exhibition is meant to start this conversation.
Disturbing Innocence is on at The FLAG Art Foundation, a non-profit organisation in the Chelsea Arts Tower until 31 January, 2015.