Erica Eyres has a penchant for the mockumentary, that droll younger sibling of the unstoppably popular fly-on-the-wall genre. In her first solo exhibition in London she presents her latest work-in-progress, ‘Destiny Green’, along with a series of intricate ‘portraits’ of young women. The sketches imitate the kind of cheaply seductive images that litter classified advertising sections, their caricatured style exaggerating or diminishing bodily imperfections to pathetic and comic effect. Eyres offers a tragi-comic critique of the way in which such images are disseminated and consumed, with each individual’s selfconscious sexuality laid bare.
‘Destiny Green’ is a wincingly funny film in which Eyres shows she’s as much a comedic performer as an artist. It tells the story of a young girl whose rise to beauty-queen fame, orchestrated by her mother, takes a shockingly absurdist turn. With her friends, family and agent—all played by Eyres in a variety of fake teeth and wig ensembles—gushing about what a hero she is and how she is the champion of the ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’ movement, we learn that Destiny has had her entire face removed.
‘Everybody has a face; that’s what will make me different,’ Destiny proclaims, like some cosmetic revolutionary who has grossly misinterpreted the notion of nonconformity and has confused beauty with identity. Disturbingly, she has acquired a devoted following; one dedicated fan is having her face removed in three sections because she can’t afford to have it all done at once. The only person mocking her is her relatively normal-looking but far less successful sister called Fate.
Retaining the dark satire of her earlier films—notably ‘Playing Dead’—‘Destiny Green’ is a provocative and possibly prophetic film. But what validates its critique of contemporary standards of beauty is its juxtaposition with Eyres’ ballpoint pen sketches of girls posed like those shown on prostitutes’ phonebox cards. Where the film deliberately lacks subtlety, Eyre’s cartoons, coy and flabby, some weeping lines of mascara from darkrimmed eyes, offer a deeper, more ambiguous analysis of our contradictory desires for individuality, physical perfection, empowerment and sexual consumption. Their allusion to the tradition of abusive caricature, objectification of the female and fear of the grotesque enable their location within a history of voyeurism.
Eyres’ work may also be viewed within the context of work produced by contemporary Scottish or Scottish-trained female artists, particularly Jenny Saville. Many such artists flout traditional notions of beauty and expose accepted, prejudicial demands for visual perfection. But where Saville’s fleshy bodies powerfully consume the canvas, Eyres’ girls are diminutive, drawn as much into themselves as into the middle of the paper they inhabit.
Eyres is certainly an artist-actor to keep your eye on; she was nominated for Beck’s Futures in 2006 having only finished postgraduate studies at Glasgow in 2004. Her work suggests a mature, astute and cynical understanding of our media-hungry existence. The Rokeby show is a well-balanced affair; her film prompting a nervous laugh at my own glossy-mag-reading expense while her drawings evoke a sharper pathos. Eyres’ work seems to confirm John Berger’s suspicions that ‘men look at women; women watch themselves being looked at’.
Kate Cowcher works at the Fleming Collection, London and is an arts writer