Pygmalion

In Roman mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. The ‘Pygmalion effect’ is the phenomenon in which higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. Its inverse is the ‘Golem effect’, by which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. Both effects are forms of a self-fulfilling prophecy; both observable effects at play in a world divided by the privilege of circumstance.

Using these themes, Seton replaces components of antique and modern bentwood chairs with his familiar medium of marble and digitally printed plastic proxies. The result is a series of hybrids in which the mass-produced melds with the hand made. 

Each work in the exhibition is formed around a bentwood chair or stool. Originally designed by Michael Thonet in the mid-19th century, the Model No.14 chair was the first item of furniture suitable for mass manufacture. With its simple joins and classically modern design, the so-called ‘Consumer Chair’ quickly became a European restaurant stalwart, an association that still resonates today.

In a nod to the chattering café culture to which these chairs bear witness, Seton has employed a selection of early vintage and contemporary manufactured versions of the No.14 as the basis for a suite of works representing discursive conversational elements. 

 Furniture has been an ongoing reference point for the artist, from his very first exhibition in which gallery seating benches were reproduced in marble. Likewise, the transformation of functional objects into art objects has been a continuing preoccupation. 

 This receives a twist in the work Bentwood Hybrids. Here, two antique Thonet bentwood chairs which were previously unable to be used, have been altered with prostheses. The replacement legs and seat simultaneously repair and corrupt the chairs’ original forms and function, employing the resonance of monumental marble as part of a poetic narrative of expectation and transformation.  

The other works in the show utilise contemporary Thonet replicas in combination with a number of carved marble motifs and other elements. In the two works Pygmalion effect and Golem effect, a skull rests on the seat of each chair – the former carved from viscerally bone-coloured Statuario marble, the latter a three-dimensional print of the same form in sinister black. Above the black skull a pendulum is suspended, pointed directly at the cranium below. The works suggest the power and finality of perception, and the difficulty in shaking a negative opinion once it has been formed.

 Whatever it is, I’m against it takes its name from a song featured in the 1932 Marx Brothers film Horse Feathers. The work features a watercoloured carved marble replica of a Guy Fawkes mask, the symbol which has become synonymous with the worldwide hacking collective Anonymous. Beneath the chair sits a megaphone quietly playing the iPhone ringtone ‘Belltower’.  Where protestors once grouped together physically, taking to the streets wielding megaphones, revolutions can now take a quieter form. With the mask of anonymity in place, it is no longer necessary to have the courage of one’s convictions. 

Taking a more humorous approach is the work There’s no accounting for taste, which depicts a adult novelty inflatable cow toy, making reference to the Charles Dickens quote which concludes “said the old woman as she kissed the cow.”

In the gallery space, the works appear in dialogue or perhaps face off against one another. The bleak pairing of a black flag of warning and white flag of surrender in the works Hazards of success and Hazards of failure punctuate the exhibition. Supported by marble witches hats resting on bentwood stools, the flags signal the dangers of purporting openness while harbouring set opinions.

 Chloé Wolifson

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