Lauren Elizabeth Cunningham
Meg Aubrey at Whitespace Gallery
In her current exhibition at Whitespace Gallery, artist Meg Aubrey depicts white, middle-class suburbia from the perspective of its female inhabitants. These wealthy wives and mothers can afford time for leisure activities such as shopping and tennis. Purebred pets, iPods, smartphones, and other status symbols confirm the women’s affluence. On the surface, there is much to be envied.
The women's glossy exteriors contrast starkly with their meager surroundings. Unpainted roads and skies lend a sterility to the scenes. Also missing are other people. Except for the yardman who maintains their pristine environment, the women appear to live in homogeneous isolation. The resulting images are still-lifes, with the women positioned like shiny objects against neutral backgrounds.
Like the flat landscapes around them, Aubrey's subjects are two-dimensional. Keeping up appearances is a greater concern than forming relationships. The women stand together but are otherwise disconneced, neither talking nor making eye contact. Conversations happen via text messaging rather than in person, and mailboxes function as property markers rather than avenues for correspondence. In fact, the possibility of social interaction while collecting the mail leads one woman to drink.
Thus the women "have it all" but remain unfulfilled. They longingly gaze towards the empty horizon or watch sporting events taking place out of sight. In one painting, a dog-walker appears to be pulled forward by an unseen force rather than her leashed pet. Her actions are guided by social pressures, and her eyes, covered bydark sunglasses, are blinded by the desire to conform.
Only the woman with a busted lip (who also bears a striking resemblance to Aubrey) is self-aware. Peering at viewers through sunglasses, her eyes seem frightened by what they have seen. Her injury serves as a reminder of the transience of superficiality, and the white fur of her collar, as a reminder of human mortality. These women are on the brink of death. In other paintings, long, late-afternoon shadows suggest a state of decline. One woman even appears dead as she reclines in her folding chair.
Aubrey's message to viewers opposes what the media says about needing to possess certain objects to be content and important. This idea is made especially clear in Aubrey's installation, in which the faces of her women reappear in graphite on coffee-cup sleeves. The objects reveal how the women's identities are tied to their possessions, and the delicate pencil drawings also speaks to the fragility of the facade the women struggle to maintain. Although Aubrey has avoided showing brands and logos in her work, viewers will recognize many of the accoutrements and hopefully realize that they offer a false promise of happiness.