The Shock of the Now Issue 15
Featured Exhibition Text

India Nielsen
'M is for Madonna, M is for Mariah, M is for Mother' Solo Exhibition
Darren Flook
28th October 2021

Darren Flook inaugurates his new gallery space, occupying a former psychotherapists office, with India Nielsen’s solo exhibition ‘M is for Madonna, M is for Mariah, M is for Mother’. The exhibition’s title, at once a reference to Nielsen’s enduring love for preeminent pop divas and her fascination with the female saints of the Roman Catholic church, expertly exemplifies the distinct dichotomies that pervade the artist’s painting practice. Borrowing as readily from pop-cultural imagery of the ‘90s and '00s as she does from art historical allegories or sacred symbolism, Nielsen’s embeds her own personal experiences, thoughts and feelings into idiosyncratic collages of juvenescent influences and inspirations. Celestial symbols of suns and stars, seemingly nonsensical cyphers and hearts recur throughout, the latter rendered religious, romantic or anatomical dependent on its context.

The exhibition is overseen by A little bit of everything all of the time (2021), portraying the trinity of camera lenses that inhabit the most recent iPhone models. Here, Nielsen documents the omnipresent, and increasingly omnipotent, documentarian. With much of her subject matter drawn from a deep digital archive of screenshots or camera phone photos, this painting, which takes pride of place above the mantelpiece of 106 Great Portland Street, serves to draw attention to the all-seeing eye itself and, in turn, trains the camera directly on the viewer. Fittingly the artwork’s title references Bo Burnham’s recent ode to isolation 'Inside’, and specifically his track ‘Welcome to the Internet’ which speculates on the negative effects of instant access to information and the peculiar contemporary proclivity to live our lives more online than off, a condition that Nielsen often similarly exposes in her practice. 

Hey Britney (you say you wanna lose control) (2021), one of the larger paintings on display in the exhibition, depicts a tearful female figure - possibly Britney herself, but most likely that subject of much supernatural speculation, the weeping Madonna statue - haloed by bloodied daggers daubed in thick impasto oils. Below, the phrase ‘We Can Do Hard Things’, popularised during the endurance of early pandemic living by author and activist Glennon Doyle in her memoir ‘Untamed’, is inscribed in confident cartoonish script. This painting could serve as the perfect post-pandemic poster image, its vibrant palette, stark depiction of stoic suffering and simple yet emphatic words of encouragement akin to early motivational posters such as the iconic 1970’s feline favourite Hang in there, Baby.

Elsewhere, Eminem’s sardonic, satirical alter-ego Slim Shady appears starry-eyed and saint-like alongside the artist’s year of birth; a capybara couple nuzzle under a romantic rainbow, surrounded by seemingly indecipherable calligraphic characters; ‘The End’ etched in Ed Ruschian gothic typeface sits atop an ornate antique stone bench, and the suns rays scorch innocent ants before they’re refracted through a magnifying glass to instead singe a disembodied human heart.