“SH*TFACED,” Lindsey Mendick’s current exhibition of new sculptural installations (on view through October 1, 2023), draws on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) to examine dichotomies of the self and the dualistic values still enacted upon our notions of good and evil, virtue and depravity, as well as gender roles and behavior. Mendick’s ceramic tableaux capture indulgence and release (and their aftermath) while spelling out the double standards of contemporary binge-drinking culture. These bare-all works reveal as much about the artist’s own vulnerabilities and anxieties as they do about what happens when you combine tequila shots and karaoke.
In Jupiter Artland’s 17th-century dovecote, Shame Spiral, a confessional film shot by Mendick’s partner Guy Oliver, plays among crushed beer cans and stubbed-out cigarettes, all rendered in ceramic, that fill nesting holes and litter the floor. Despite its brashness, this very personal story of binge drinking and its effects, narrated by Mendick and Oliver, is a sympathetic portrayal that engenders a desire for deeper understanding. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and Mendick, by describing the journey from euphoria to hangover, asks us to take account of the complex realities of life: “Booze makes everything better…until it makes it worse.”
In the neo-baroque Ballroom Gallery, 12 life-size white porcelain busts assemble along the length of a shiny mirrored dining table. I tried so hard to be good, despite its title, is not about bad behavior; instead, it addresses the conventions that tie us to what is considered acceptable. Mendick, always quick-witted and wryly humorous, has reportedly described this work as “the Twelve Apostles meet Abigail’s Party,” a reference to Mike Leigh’s 1977 satirical situation comedy of middle-class values. The fragile seeming, hollow busts—unusual for Mendick—are largely headless, allowing carefully observed, intricate details to speak for themselves. Ribbons, laces, corsets, cravats, and waistcoats signaling a kind of Victorian respectability are at odds with the subject matter, constraining voluptuous and over-indulged bodies, while half-smoked cigarettes and cigars dangle from fingers and lips. Empty bottles are strewn across the table, and the seemingly ordinary floral embellishments consist of plants such as deadly nightshade that produce dangerous toxins, as do the poisonous creatures lurking among the finery. While the dinner guests smoke and drink, inhibitions fall away and social restraint gives way to abandon, and self-destructive tendencies.
In the Steadings Gallery, Mendick presents a darkly funny fantasy sequence, countering the genteel luxury of the ballroom with the loud seediness of a night-club. In a tabletop diorama, complete with glittering disco ball, dozens of perfectly crafted, tiny ceramic figures—drinkers, dancers, angels, half-human monsters, and devils—disport themselves in a club configured like Dante’s levels of Hell. Their progression into inebriation is writ large in SH*TFACED, a life-size unisex bathroom, where music thuds and the painted black-and-white tiles of the floor and walls deform into swaying, distorted curves. Stickers and graffiti repeat mantras of self-chastisement—“I feel so rough”; “I’m never drinking again”—but the surreal visions have only just begun. Flaccid penises cling to urinals like limpets. Condom machines are lit up like juke boxes. In the center, a double-sided mirror and sink basin becomes the site of confrontation with the self. A tangle of snakes writhes in one sink, jellyfish and an octopus in the other. Scorpions and spiders cover the mirror’s tiled frame; insects crawl over a handbag; and poisonous plants serve as ashtrays. Nearby, a white porcelain head emerges from a toilet bowl, fingers clinging to the edges, trying not to drown in excess. Private nightmares become public in this communal space. It’s not a divine comedy, but a very human one, freed from judgment, a morality nightmare upended.
As Mendick has said, “Duality is in us all, we’re neither fully good nor fully bad. What makes us so fascinating as subjects to draw upon are those gritty nuances of self.” That, in a nutshell, is what her work is about—the gritty nuances of life. Mendick asks us to look beneath the surface of things and acknowledge the messy nature of living, considering not only how people behave but why. Often, there is a deeply ingrained sense of self-doubt that deserves more than understanding; it deserves compassion, and Mendick’s work is about that, too.