Mirror, mirror on the wall, Matilda, with her oversized aureate ears and fierce fringe, welcomes viewers to complete the composition with the addition of their own visage. Emblematic of an interdisciplinary practice that encompasses monumental murals, immersive installations and emotive moving-image, Saelia Aparicio presents the perfect marriage of the functional and the sculptural at Gallery FUMI. Accompanied by a mural that wraps the gallery space’s central column and sees the artist’s signature señoras convene in a supportive embrace, each anthropomorphic artwork or objet d'art embodies a sentimental sentience implied by the exhibition’s title, as if blessed with the power of perception and overflowing with felt feelings. The somewhat cartoonish characters, with their inflated facial features and stylised silhouettes, and indicative of Aparicio’s artistic and academic engagement with humanity’s historic attempts to comprehend our chaotic and complex corporeality.
Alongside a chic ash and stone shelving unit made in collaboration with Aparicio’s sister Attua, herself an accomplished artist and designer, and charming clay figurines that cuddle and cradle bulbs hand-blown by Jochen Holz, a specialist in lampworked glassware, a nude figure squats to form a fireplace. She peeks cheekily over one shoulder, perhaps threatening to extinguish the anxious-looking flame, Aidan, by relieving herself (a practice particularly prevalent around festival campfires).
Aparicio’s caricatured chairs are scattered throughout the space, composed of individual or pairs of women contorted, compressed or concertinaed into a strengthened, cuboid seat. Accidentally initiated after the fortuitous folding of a discarded drawing, the ongoing series could be considered the emancipated antithesis to Allen Jones’ much-maligned female-as-furniture from the 1960s. Still the subject of contemporary critique and debate, those sculptures are, as The Guardian’s Zoe Williams noted, “so influential that almost no image of woman-as-object or woman-as-other-object can be created, even 40 years later, that doesn’t nod to them.”*
Many of Aparacio’s artworks are titled to reflect her family members, close friends and fellow artists, while others acknowledge the artist’s myriad of mythological, pop-cultural or folkloric influences, including Lola Flores, the Spanish singer, actress, bailaora and jewel in the crowd of Andalusian culture; Prometheus and Persephone, Grecian deities of fire and the underworld respectively; and Rapunzel, that fairy tale fair maiden with long golden locks, chaste and cruelly interned to a turret.
A second mirror, Sheela Na Gig, takes its name from those 12th-century carvings, architectural adornments to cathedrals and castles throughout Britain and Ireland, that depict women manually dilating their already exaggerated vulvas. Such yonic statues, previously referenced and reinterpreted by Sarah Lucas, have been the subject of recent feminist reappropriation. Previously thought to ward off evil spirits or warn against lust and lasciviousness, they are now praised for their unapologetic and positive portrayal of female sexuality, as icons of empowerment. Aparicio’s Sheela, therefore, appears wide-armed and open-legged, the resultant reflective void entirely encircled by the gleeful, grinning grotesque.
*‘Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?’, Zoe Williams, The Guardian, 10th November 2014