“The camera has always been, and continues to be,
my provocateur, driver, accomplice, and conspirator;
the resulting photographs acting as portals
to somewhere else…”
THE GREEN JELLY crouches quivering on the windowsill. Should it be allowed back in the house? Is that the kitten-like quake of fear or the altogether more malevolent convulsions of a thing possessed?
The green jelly will have to wait. Up in the bathroom a batch of normally monogamous fried eggs has formed a commune and is rallying to demand their right to self-identify as soft furnishings. While some are already curdling at the thought of the first foot fall, others dream of throwing off their yolks in an act of magnificent martyrdom. Little do they know that all around them the proletarian luncheon-meat is tessellating on a massive scale and will soon have seized control of the entire splashback.
Meanwhile, downstairs, the broom cupboard is empty. The clothes pegs have gone back to nature and, unable to manage the enormity of tree hugging, they dangle from leaves like born-again berries. The feather dusters pose ostentatiously on the Dorset coast, willing it to be St Tropez and pondering whether a bucket of whelks might constitute lotus eating. Having an altogether more profound experience, the brightly coloured plastic pot scourers cluster on a fence. Enthralled by the recent discovery of their evolutionary linkage to steel wool, they search the paddock for signs of the primordial ferrous sheep.
SIAN BONNELL’s images are wrapped in a peculiarly English whimsy. But nestling at the heart of each is something altogether more troubling. Something about freedom and expectation; adventure and habit. It is not so long since it was widely considered that the natural place for woman was in the home, just as the proper place for a fried egg is on a plate.
For the artist, these eccentric domestic narratives unfurl in a mind numbed by the monotony of housework. They leak from the subconscious to be performed in private, while the camera, like a peeping Tom, bears illicit witness to these furtive rituals.
The images draw on the strategies of Dada, an art movement that arose in reaction to the brutal folly of war. It was both an escape from and a rejection of the mechanistic ideology and bourgeois romanticism that had seen Europe slip into carnage. But that was then and this is now. Sian Bonnell’s images weave other influences into their doily of domestic oddity. There’s the hint of Cold War sci-fi schlock; all those flying saucers and alien blobs…
But perhaps their truest antecedence lies further back, in the nonsense rhymes of Edward Lear and the adventures that Lewis Carroll proposed for his heroine, Alice. Lear revelled in the sound of words as much as their meaning, inventing new ones as the need arose. Similarly Sian Bonnell’s images delight in the colour, texture and form of things while liberating them from the shackles of functionality to find new and charmingly perverse roles within her runcible ruminations. And what delighted the Liddell girls most about the Alice’s adventures was not simply their whimsy but the way their topsy-turvy logic poked fun at the absurdities of adult behaviour.
In Sian Bonnell’s photographs things are not as they should be but, then, neither are they quite what they seem. Just as we hone in on one meaning they slip mischievously from our grasp to adopt another pose. Eccentric and very English, they loose the bonds of reason and let fly the flocks of fantasy. Another pile of ironing done and the Lord of Misrule slips back into the shadowy recesses of the airing cupboard. Order returns to the home.
MEANWHILE, the green jelly squats on the windowsill, glowing gently in anticipation as it awaits the return of the Mother Ship.
Images (from the top):
Portrait of Sian Bonnell (detail) [photo: © Barry Lewis]
© Sian Bonnell ‘House Beautiful #15’ (detail) 2005
© Sian Bonnell ‘Nip’ (detail) 1999
© Sian Bonnell ‘Glow #3’ 2006