TRIPPLEHEADED WOLF WITH COMPANY
Work exhibited in group shows: Debut, Blindside Gallery, Melbourne, curated by Christine Morrow, January 2005, and George Balderssin Foundation Fellowship Exhibition, Yarra Sculpture Gallery, Abbotsford, 2005.
Exhibition Catalogue, Christine Morrow, Blindside, January 2005: 'The girl who cried wolf'
Cecilia Fogelberg’s soft sculptures feature the stuffed cloth bodies, bold patterning and animal motifs of children’s plush toys. They have a humorous element consisting as they do of big squishy figures, each one asymmetrical and with a centre of gravity low to the ground. One of the two pieces seems especially ludicrous with its lumpen, pincer-shaped body complete with insect and mammalian features, even a strange red-tipped beak tucked awkwardly to one side of its body and a long drooping tail or appendage. The title of the two objects The tripleheaded wolf with company, has the quality of a cartoon caption.
The humour cannot be reduced to whimsy for it has some unsettling and abject elements. The figure already discussed is like no known creature. It is perhaps some magic or mythical beast but bears a bulbous pink gland or tumour swelling out next to its beak and a pink intestine or umbilical cord coiled against its body on the opposite side. The other figure, with its long torso, three wolves heads and multiple tails suggests the tripleheaded wolf of the title. Of course, it is no less imaginary than its companion but it is assembled together from parts we recognise as belonging to wolves. As creatures, these two sculptures seem strangely maladapted. They are even slightly grotesque: their size seems exaggerated and they have a surfeit of body parts that may even be mixed up. If they are intended as toys, someone may have assembled them together incorrectly in the factory.
If the lumpier figure is content with being merely ridiculous, something about the wolf sculpture is gruesome. An animal suspended vertically always suggests a fresh kill. It has either been hanged in execution or is a recently slaughtered carcass suspended on a meat hook, maybe intended for the dinner table. Near the wolves heads, multiple bud-shape lumps burst out from the skin as if they are the paws of animals that have been swallowed whole and are trying to claw their way back out.
When animals - or their heads - come in threes, you know the scene is taking place inside a myth or fairy story. Children’s stories often feature characters in triplicate, as in the tales of The Three Little Pigs or The Three Billy Goats Gruff. But the dog Cerberus from Greek mythology also had three heads and according to legend his tail, like those hanging from the tripleheaded wolf also partly suggest, was made up of snakes.
Fogelberg’s work depicts mythical, legendary and fairy tale characters and serves to expose the darker and sometimes perverse narratives of lust, violence and revenge that are often concealed beneath the guise of myths or fairy stories for children. Among other folk tale characters, the motif of the wolf is a part of her personal mythology as she grew up in a small village in a forested area of Sweden. The wolf’s habitat is confined to the Arctic circle and the sub-Arctic regions of the world and this animal looms large in the folk stories of Northern Europe but is also widely disseminated throughout the West in fairy tales.
In fairy stories wolves often act the role of foil to or combatant with another character: a fox, a sheep, or a child such as Little Red Riding Hood. In these stories the wolf often figures as a pagan predator, the bogeyman held out as warning within a Christian story of Christ the Good Shepherd tending his flock. The title of Fogelberg’s artwork tells us that the wolf has company, but a wolf is not normally thought of as a companionate animal. Wolves get about on their own (the proverbial ‘lone wolf’) or in packs, but the one-on-one relationship mostly eludes this particular beast except in the special rapport that exists between predator and prey.
Fogelberg does not rewrite the old stories but reveals unseen elements or tells us things we already knew but had somehow forgotten. There is no simple message or alternative narrative for us to decode in these grotesque creatures. Plush toys offer familiarity, security and comfort to a child and in their way, these soft sculptures comfort us with the familiar but also frightening territory of childhood, the land where creatures come in threes, monsters abound, wolves eat little girls, animals are cut open and their bellies filled with stones.
Text by Christine Morrow, Gallery Blindside, January 2005