Erica Eyres, I Love You But I Hate You

Eyres is interested in both the liminality of adolescent girls, stuck between the contrasting archetypes of virginal youth and the sexual coming of age

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 13 Sep 2006
This startling exhibition has at its core the grotesque story of a young fashion model that has her face surgically removed. Satirising glamour modelling and referencing the macabre trend for sexualising underage women, exposed during the Jon Benet Ramsay case, the film is a mock-documentary, portraying the reactions of her family and friends to the shocking news.

Her previous work has considered similar themes, specifically in a film in which a group of girls decide to each amputate one of their arms, disappointed when one of the group opts to have her arm put back on. Eyre's practice, which oddly echoes Cindy Sherman, involves putting herself in the films, here giving herself a series of subtly horrific makeovers, the deformities becoming ever more obvious as the film goes on. Tiny details emerge - waxy skin, teeth that look like formica - in the characters, as the jealousy, admiration and confusion of the girl's friends, family and admirers is played out.

The characters are beautifully and hilariously rendered, with a jealous, marginalised young sister bemoaning her sister's usurpation of attention, the proud, pushy mother in death mask make-up and the admiring acolytes, impressed yet perturbed by the girl with no face's odd decision. The admiring wannabes' reactions are the most telling, with one girl planning the same operation but only able to afford it in three steps, another expressing surprise at her friend's decision, asking of the model, whose career has been based upon her looks, how "people will know who you are with no face."

Complimenting the film, an installation of an alabaster white figure, reclining on a grotty sofa with her eyes kohl blacked and lips painted a whorish red, greets the viewer. Eyres also exhibits a series of monochrome line drawings, taken from a piece in a men's magazine called 'Real Girls to phone and Date', which encourages women to submit photos of themselves, describe their ideal man or detail their sexual fantasies. Her drawings portray sexualised poses, bra cast or lips pouted, some of the models adolescent and awkward, seemingly ill at ease with their burgeoning sexuality, others older, big-boobed, Barbie-haired mannequins. Young girls in braces pose uncomfortably, older women pout; resembling Big Brother Lea's grotesquely caricatured sexuality, all huge hair and outsized breasts.

Eyres is interested in both the liminality of adolescent girls, stuck between the contrasting archetypes of virginal youth and the sexual coming of age, and jaded older women, still hoping to look alluring. The curious marketing of Britney Spears at the beginning of her career springs to mind, midriff bared brazenly yet perpetually cast as chaste and virginal, as well as Kirsty Whiten's Feral Lingerie Model series which shows models living with, and behaving like, wolves. But Eyres' women and girls are no coquettes, their nervousness, insecurity and pathos is written large.
The work is unflinching in its scrutiny, grim, uncomfortable but not without humour. The unforgettably horrific denouement, a glimpse of the girl's rubbed out face, is particularly harrowing. Watching viewer's reactions is equally fascinating. Some recoil, some laugh, others look sickened. Not one though, it appears, fails to be moved.
CCA, Until September 16