“Imagine if you visited an art show at my school and discovered that every single piece of art was about you, and just as you realised how weird it was, all the doors behind you locked and you were trapped.”
– S. Chalwell, Living Room Hypothetical.
Is it possible to contrive such evocative, dangerous, hopeful words? And so begins this sophisticated rumination on the role of the art critic, in S. Chalwell’s latest poem, Living Room Hypotheticals.
Chalwell’s work has always exhibited an admirable panache and celebration of the absurd – “Imagine if you had to get married tomorrow and had to decide who to marry right now,” she recently reflected on in Tough Question for Older Siblings – but some pieces have, admittedly, lacked the gravitas that has led to the perception that Chalwell is more of an oddity than an artist. I’m delighted that in this work, she has responded to these criticisms not by capitulating to an austere aestheticism, but by crafting a work that artistically explores critical examination.
Notice in this poem – if you will allow this categorisation – how the critic attempts to “discover” and “realise” in order to provide insight grounded in evidence. But then see how this project is subverted, with every work becoming a doppelganger, and every gallery, a prison.
Is this the retreat into rabid anti-art and an inaccessible Dadaism that some critics have told us to expect from Chalwell? Hardly. In the locked gallery, we find the space and silence to examine ourselves.