Caroline Gallacher: Acts of Violence
For a sculptor who uses building materials, working from home would usually be a less than ideal situation. But in Caroline Gallacher’s case, the post-art school move to a home studio has fed her practice generously. Influenced by construction sites, her past works have brought together all sorts of building site ephemera, such as bricks, debris netting and steel rods. But taking her art home has brought to the fore themes that were previously latent – namely gender.
Indeed, gender has now moved centre-stage. In her upcoming show at Sierra Metro, Edinburgh, she is exploring wrestling as an extreme amplification of masculine culture. Taking the gallery space as an arena for her ideas, she sees the materials as quite literal interpretations of men in combat.
The show’s title, The Pankrateon, comes from Pankration, a style of wrestling practised in the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. Referencing combat sports in general, Gallacher is particularly interested in Pankration for its sheer brutality. Only biting and gouging were illegal, and the winner was announced after his opponent indicated submission by raising his index finger.
“Watching combat is strange,” she says. “There are moments of pure tenderness, and it’s as though only after beating each other to a pulp and having a woman with big tits walk up and down with a scorecard can the men allow a very human embrace with each other.”
One work in the show tries to capture this embrace. Resting on what might be a wrestling mat, two aluminium discs lean in towards each other. Traversing the space, black bituminous felt is wound around the pillars of the gallery, alluding to the strapping around boxers’ hands, the ritual of binding and unbinding them in preparation for fight.
Gallacher has always seen gender as being very fluid – an act, a performance. She quotes the drag queen RuPaul: “We’re born naked and the rest is drag.” As such, wrestling can be seen as the ultimate performance of masculinity, with preparations and rituals that liken the arena to the stage.
Describing another work, she says: “It reminds me of a guy I saw in a fight with a tiny pair of shorts and a big puffed-out chest, shirt tucked into his pants. It looks kind of self-conscious and unrelenting, and it makes me laugh.” Made from rolled-up metal covered in wadding, its belly pulled in by Velcro, the figure is indeed comical – but also a bit pathetic. One begins to wonder what the show would be like if it were to mimic or parody extremes of femininity instead.
“I didn’t know the materials would actually become the pankratiasts,” says Gallacher. “I imagine a scenario where I’m working in the arena and there’s some kind of head-to-head going on. But I don’t want to think too much about the responsibility of the work to speak for gender as a performance. It’s more like each piece is an observation of men in these fights.”
As someone who has a fluid relationship to her own gender spectrum, it seems doubtful that the artist will alienate anyone with her work. But judging by the two sand-filled Lycra sacks slumped over a metal bar – boxing mitts or testicles, it’s your choice – it’s clear she’s pulling no punches.