Shary Boyle at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West) to May 28. $4, stu/srs $2. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Nothing portrays our cloying ideal of femininity better than German porcelain figurines.
Marvels of craftsmanship and kitsch, they're still obsessively collected by grandmothers the world over. For Shary Boyle , who's been producing small-scale sculptures of her own for a while, they are the best medium for her darkly comic and surreal take on womanhood.
Boyle first became acquainted with the arcane art of fine porcelain lace-draping at a small hobby craft seminar. Lace is fitted around the figurines and painted over with a porcelain slip. In the subsequent firing, the lace is burnt away, leaving a perfectly detailed porcelain rendering of it. The result is extravagantly delicate ball gown finery for the perfect figurine.
In Boyle's work, however, each untitled figure in the four museum display cases has been subjected to grotesque and irrational mutations. Debutante belles turn out to be pregnant crones with varicose veins. A seated dancer sprouts extra limbs and a constellation of eyes on her forehead. Blond and brunette Siamese twins warily share a ball gown. Disturbing details abound, with limbs and faces blemished by the merest suggestion of bruises and scratch marks.
Mutation underscores the overarching violence. One girl glumly holds her severed head in her hands, her neck stump filigreed with bloody lace. A blanket of spring flowers smothers another figure, while a third, face clotted with vegetation, grows bloody roses out of an upheld arm. Adornment turns lethal or pathological, while the figures appear unruffled or, at worst, astonished.
The use of small, mass-produced figurines to dredge up murky subtexts brings to mind Jake and Dinos Chapmann's use of toy soldiers in their recent Hell series. Boyle is less boyishly gleeful; her violence taps into the fairy-tale carnage of the Brothers Grimm.
So it is telling that the lone male figurine is a lovely rendering of the Prince from Jean Cocteau's classic film Beauty And The Beast. Resplendent in black lace, with furry face and fangs, he's a fitting mascot for this unnerving storybook landscape of gender and desire.