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Busan Biennale

I was part of the 2008 Busan Biennale Sculpture Project, thanks to the kind invitation of Cedar Lewisohn and Patricia Ellis.


Here is Ellis’ text about my work, as featured in the Biennale catalogue:

Fiona Shaw’s untitled (We Are Special Too) is a monumental sculpture celebrating humble origins. Inspired by a sheet of paper fluttering in the wind, her metal structure, aggrandised to architectural scale, is both heroic and bereft. Drawing from all the tropes of public sculpture (large, abstract, industrial), Shaw’s contribution to the Busan Sculpture Project is refreshingly sympathetic and ingratiating. Transformed from a maquette made of crumpled tinfoil and cardboard into an imposing monolith, it shuns all pretence of grandeur to highlight the beauty and potential of everyday experience. Functioning as sculpture, rain shelter, and park bench forming the words ‘We Are Special Too’, Shaw’s piece extends a sentimental overture from the relics of modernist vision, reconstituting utopian derelict as a vibrant community meeting point. Swooping from the ground with weightless aspiration, and shining with its silvery reflection, untitled… is a tribute to everyone who isn’t perfect, a triumph for the ‘just alright’.

Fiona Shaw’s work encapsulates human vulnerability with a spastic ballet–like elegance, drawing from the academic rigidity of formalist and conceptual sculpture as a model to describe social exclusion and anxiety. Her works are tragicomic in their contorted gracefulness and wannabe ambition: forcing Joseph Kosuth chairs to balance torturously on sharpened pencils, comically posing Nam June Paik TV sets in parody of suicidal breakdown, re-forming John McCracken cubes to spell out ‘SUCKS’. Almost all her pieces incorporate some form of text: a drawing desperately declares ‘I Got a System To Keep Me Alive’, and a little wooden carved word with nails driven into it says ‘OUCH’. A simpatico paranoia exudes from everything she makes: inferiority complex, embarrassment, frustration, fear, the foundations of modern intimacy.

For Shaw words are synonymous with inadequacy and failure. Her second-hand language, with all its disposable meaning and transient usage, is piteously salvaged from the charity bin of popular culture. A bit damaged, dog-earred, and bruised, her texts contrive hand-me-down affection, recycled ill-fitting truths. Her plagiarised song lyrics (always of the breaking up variety) and greeting card-like slogans, are rendered in impoverished materials such as gift shop stationary and waning helium-filled party balloons, to convey the malaise of the emotionally inept and inarticulate.

Shaw’s romanticism is fraught with suspicion and neurosis:  Feelings, like words, are awkwardly, cripplingly aberrant, empirical systems which are neither rational nor trustworthy. Subjected to obsessive compulsive making processes, Shaw’s maudlin scripts humorously transform from hypochondriac syndrome into proud badges of (under)achievement and deficiency, made all the more empathetic through their material abjection. Like abandoned shrines her words occupy an uneasy space in the world, as traumatic, dejected, and obsolete remains of those unspeakable sentiments between us.

© 2008 Patricia Ellis, all rights reserved

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