The paradoxical nature of Frances Goodman’s exhibition Morbid Appetites reveals itself gradually: first in the subtle gleam of the title outside the gallery space, then in the seductive allure of a surreal boutique-like display of gorgeous luggage, and, in the distance, transformed designer carrier bags against a silky, branded background.
The paradoxical nature of Frances Goodman’s exhibition Morbid Appetites reveals itself gradually: first in the subtle gleam of the title outside the gallery space, then in the seductive allure of a surreal boutique-like display of gorgeous luggage, and, in the distance, transformed designer carrier bags against a silky, branded background. Staccato calls of hawkers – “Armani”, “Money”, “Grazie!”, “How much?”, “Come back” – emanate from the sequined suitcases and briefcases, impinging on the pleasure of the viewer – a reminder of distant marketplaces and migrants. Fiction and reality, fake and authenticity merge.In a globalised world of sweatshops, mass-production and knock-offs, Goodman’s objects are unique, labour intensive and superbly crafted; yet they are dysfunctional, like the aspects of contemporary society which she examines and exposes. The suitcases – all dazzle and glitter – are images of excess and profligacy, thereby rendering the shadow side of the show all the more sinister. In Morbid Appetites (an old-fashioned term for addictions) harmless and essential activities are perverted and turned into vices. Shopping is one of them; taking medicine is another.Mother’s Little Helper comprises a series of abstract sculptures that are precise models of the molecular structures of prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Vicodin, Valium and Zoloft. Their pharmacological action, as well as the consequences of abuse, is carefully described; the dangers they present are, however, contradicted by the beauty of the shapes and crystal beads.In the series Bodycopy, Goodman explores the pathology of deprivation through Pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) slogans (“Starve me Sane”, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”) that are held captive by a multitude of shimmering hooks-and-eyes; they cast ghostly shadows on the walls.Goodman’s capacity to find the materials and methods, and the words, to convey her intentions is nowhere more subtle and menacing than in the sound installation Dear Ana. In the middle of a space lined in black velvet is a white fridge, its door slightly ajar, its shelves pristine and empty. A gentle, new age voice offers tips and affirmations – “Never eat in secret”, “munch ice-cubes”, “distance yourself from food” ¬¬- which are superimposed on another voice, barely audible, that reads a letter to Ana.While we may question the efficacy of Goodman’s work in changing the world, Morbid Appetites is a potent reminder of the potentiality of art to shock us into a greater awareness of ourselves and of society. In addition, she turns the art-craft debate on its head. Nobody will question the fact that this is art, yet much of the exhibition is carefully crafted according to traditional domestic and ritualistic precedents, both African and western. By understanding and exploring such techniques, and combining them with sound and text, Goodman creates works that stand for and speak to a contemporary culture of consumerism and dependency.