Porcelain figurines present romantic notions of femininity as they politely pose on the mantelpiece, or, find themselves basking in the twinkling light of your grandmothers display cabinet. Like so many expressions of the ideal female, these nostalgic figures illustrate posed perfection and all the things little girls should aspire to be. Jessica Harrison, a sculptor living and working in Edinburgh, Scotland, disrupts these polished found objects and subverts their presented ideals through her sculptural modifications.
Jessica Harrison completed a practice based PHD in sculpture in 2013 at Edinburgh University. Her research focused on shape and spaces; interior spaces, exterior spaces and the unseen spaces that exist around the internal and the external. Informed by her research, her sculptural works occupy these in-between spaces; the uninhabited spaces that evolve somewhere between here and there, between the visible and the invisible, between passivity and agency and the space between male and female. The beautiful and the, at times, macabre alterations to the porcelain found objects central to Harrison’s work, investigate the space within us, the space around us and how our identity is defined by those things.
Her disruption of polished porcelain is delivered by various means; either by completely rupturing their skin, covering their pristine surface in ink, or, destroying their shiny exterior with crunchy, matte glazes. This porcelain disruption presents a counter view to the perfection communicated by these romantic figurines. Jessica Harrison works with deconstruction, addition and reappropriation to create her sculptural works and to reposition these figures within a new narrative.
The polished ceramic surfaces are breached with diamond drills, chisels and hammers. For her series ‘Broken’, each disrupted body part is then modified to include freshly sculpted internals; anatomical hearts, now exposed, are presented to the viewer in a perfectly positioned, porcelain pose. Each lady seems to beg us to see their internal, bleeding truth; a truth we are so often required to contain- Harrison’s work beautifully challenges this social requirement.
Each of the works from her ‘Broken’ series, like with all of her works, perfectly balance at the intersection of opposition, contrast and contradiction. While maintaining their perfectly pretty pose, each figure destroys the boundary between her insides and outsides with florid, bleeding gore. What is poignant about these works is the tension between passivity and agency her altered figurines communicate. Each figure remains in a romantically passive pose, but each modification illustrates a sense of agency as each figure is active in her own surface disruption, reaching into her interior to reveal her organs, bones and ultimately, her truth. There is a contradiction between empowerment and disempowerment, as each figure chooses to reveal her own, internal truth, but in doing so she causes herself great harm- what a compelling parallel Harrison creates with the female lived experience, in choosing to share our truth, a truth that can be messy, ugly, bloody or full of pain, we risk causing ourselves great harm in a social landscape that still requires so much polite containment.
“They’re all participating in their own turning inside out. I take the pose that they’re exhibiting and I work with that pose, so they’re not being subjected to this disembowelment, or decapitation; they’re actually participating, they’re turning themselves inside out, they’re pulling off their own heads, they are the ones that are exposing themselves to us, really. They’re very much initiating their own demise.” – Jessica Harrison
We are each so much more than polished surfaces and a perfect pose. Our delicate hearts and bleeding entry/exit points have always challenged all that is poised and polite. Jessica Harrison’s sculptures offer a beautiful and compelling, socially subversive view. In disrupting these pretty surfaces to reveal all that is within, she begs the viewer to see deeper into their own identity- to see all that is unseen and all that is in-between.