From May 2 to May 13 Alvin Gittins Gallery held on the University of Utah campus ”Grumpy feelings, ”An exhibition by artist Christine Riccio for her statement on MVP. Through the exhibition Riccio uses ceramic ceramics examine experiences with mental health problems and discover their impact on her life. It’s an extremely personal collection, bold and intense, but moderate with a sardonic, dark sense of humor.
Kitsch figurines used to examine mental illness
The floor of the Alvin Gittins gallery is interspersed with pedestals with tchotchka figurines, similar to those mass-produced. Mark or found on the shelves of a gray-haired grandmother.
Glazed, earthen figurines all have the same theme – a young woman with bright anime eyes, cherub cheeks and ashy blonde hair on top of a green, back baseball cap. Each figurine stand is decorated with hearts and flowers.
While the theme remains the same, the setting changes, reflecting the myriad ways Riccio’s mental health issues have been brought up and how they manifest in her emotions.
The figure plunges his head into a beautifully drawn bag of Cheetos, gets drunk, sleeps on a pile of drugs, and impulsively dyes his hair.
A truly shocking moment comes when viewers stand in front of one particular figurine labeled “self-harming”. The figurine looks up with a shy, embarrassed half-smile – the kind that was supposed to disarm authority when you did something wrong. It is only after walking behind the figurine that it is realized that the hands tucked behind the back hide the wounds and the razor. That is the best part of the exhibition.
The plaques are placed on the east wall of the exhibition, on which the same object of the figurine depicts what Riccio calls the “Seven Stages of Depression” – laying the bed, doomscrollingto fall asleep randomly, order insufficient food to take away, be apathetic after dark, a garbage nest, and speaker TV and insomnia. Riccio reduces each phase to an almost iconographic level, ultimately creating a shot in time with astonishing clarity and purpose.
The presentation hides the message and emotions
Riccio’s artistic style is intentional kitsch, modeled on Hallmark tchotchkes and other commercial art. I realize that the intention of the exhibition is to counter the humorous representation and obscurity of the subject by illustrating the dual nature of living with mental illness.
A barely hidden sense of humor runs through the pieces, from overly exaggerated facial expressions to brightly colored figurines, which prevents the work from becoming didactic and difficult. This means that mental illness and its symptoms are more accessible to the general public – which is a good thing. Still, kitsch is the art of shallow sentimentality and Riccio can’t escape it.
Presentation creates a barrier between ourselves and the emotions of the work, preventing us from dealing with it on an emotional level. Wrinkled pink hearts and bright eyes diminish Riccio’s message.
Riccio is able all his life to take the ways in which mental illness manifests and stretch it into a representative picture in a way that is clear, striking and effective.
The fluorescent lights in the gallery are perhaps the most convenient way to watch the piece because there is no shading in Ricci’s work, and what you see is really what you get. This is probably the right approach to a topic such as mental illness – hampered by the way the message is conveyed. The focus on iconography makes the audience unable to connect or understand the emotions of the exhibition and leaves “Sulky Sentiment” in a shallow end.