Shannon Bool: Crooked Room

September 24 - November 7, 2015

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Crooked Room finds associations between the artist’s unsettling surfaces, sources. Working through various mediums, Bool gives agency to the unconscious and spiritual qualities embedded in the motifs adorning sacred, commercial, public and personal spaces. In doing so, Bool opens avenues of interpretation that connect different cultures and histories to reveal new truths.

Central to Bool’s recent body of work is the psychoanalyst’s consulting room —specifically, how the ornaments, décor and artifacts can affect the emotional and psychological transfer that occurs during psychiatric reading. For example, Sigmund Freud’s consulting room at 19 Berggasse in Vienna overflowed with ancient vases, Persian rugs and bronze figurines that he had collected. Rather than seeming clinical, Freud’s office was closer in appearance to a cabinet of curiosity or an archeologist’s study. Indeed, the psychoanalyst, much like an archeologist, unearths what is suppressed and then attempts to draw meaning from his or her findings. As Stephen Scully mentions, “Freud believed that each individual relives the history of the human race.” Thus, each one of Freud’s antiquities bares the weight of history and moves to the level of metaphor, becoming stimuli to trigger his patients’ innermost thoughts, carrying within them the potential to act as curative agents. Taken by Freud and his connection to the unconscious through artifacts, Bool has assembled photograms, tapestries and rugs that reframe decorative objects as meaningful projection surfaces.

In the case of the photograms, Bool has appropriated 1920s fashion documentation—specifically images taken from the Pavillion d’Elegance that was part of the International Exhibition in Paris of 1925—and has paired these sources with details of artifacts from Papua, New Guinea stemming from sacred architecture and male initiation rites. Images of Siegel mannequins (the earliest of commercial and idealized modernist forms) are seen poised within an embellished interior. This is fitting since mannequins are, by nature, empty vessels that wait to be awakened by the living person’s psyche. Bool takes this further by abstracting these figures, leaving their trace as a cutout silhouette. These new void-like forms are replaced by sacred motifs, appearing as someone who has been subsumed by a particular vision or memory. The photograms become uncanny once transformed into projection surfaces by the artist.

Bool literally weaves these ideas of projection, reading and interpretation into a selection of new hanging tapestries. In these works, Bool’s mannequins are more accurately represented; their bodies are fully articulated and their features much more pronounced. They loom over the viewer at this larger scale, maintaining their seated or standing positions with a sense of authority. In contrast to the photograms, the mannequins are not abstracted by pattern or ornament. Rather, images of decorative carpets are rendered through weaving to veil the mannequins like a screen or filter between Bool’s protagonists and the viewer—proposing a space for mutual analysis.

Upon closer inspection, the tapestries demonstrate Bool’s personal interest in mark-making. Aligned with her previous works Defaced Sculpture (2010) and Michelangelo’s Place (2013), the surfaces of the tapestries have been penetrated in a pedestrian fashion. Notably, the use of a form of “low” handwork also underlines Freud’s thesis on weaving – that it was the only useful invention of women, developed through its initial function of buffering hysteria. In one of Bool’s new tapestries, a dragon tattoo has been hand sewn into one of the mannequins’ backs, referencing the human desire to adorn oneself in a permanent way. Much like the psychoanalyst’s collection of objects, these embellishments can serve as long-lasting personal reminders of sacred moments, people, or act as deeply religious, spiritual and cultural expressions.

Adorning the floor of the gallery are two new Anatolian rugs from Bool’s ongoing Madonna Extraction series. The starting point for these works is the artist’s interest in early attempts at perspectival representation by Northern artists during the Renaissance. Italian artists are well-known for their accurate representation of perspective, while Flemish and German artists are known for their ability to meticulously depict materials and decorations. Using Photoshop, Bool juxtaposes two renderings of the same oriental carpet in paintings of the Madonna by Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus. In each of the original paintings, the carpet is positioned in the foreground, functioning as the starting point for the perspectival system. By contrasting these two elements, Bool not only performs an art historical analysis, but also utilizes ornaments to speak to notions of interpretation and translation. These ideas deepen when we consider that an oriental rug, painted by two different Western artists, is being interpreted through technology by a contemporary Western artist and then translated into a rug by Eastern rug producers using hand-woven techniques.

Moreover, Bool subverts the perspectival system designed to present the Madonna – or, in more general terms, the figure – as an artwork’s centerpiece. In Bool’s perspective, it is those objects that surround and stare back at us that are worthy of being exalted. After all, what remains of human existence are the images and materials that bare our impressions, our labour and our endless longing for beauty.


Shannon Bool was born in Comox, Canada and currently lives and works in Berlin. Bool attended the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, the Cooper Union in New York, and graduated from the Staedelschule in Frankfurt (2004). Bool was an artist in residence at the Villa Romana in Florence, Italy (2013). Her work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at: Bonner Kunstverein, Germany (2011); Gesellschaft fur Aktuelle Kunst Bremen, Germany (2010); and the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. Bool has been recently included in various group shows: Boom She Boom: Works from the MMK Collection, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2015); Screen and Décor, curated by Rosemary Heather, Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta (2014); Soft Pictures, curated by Irene Calderoni, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaugengo, Turin, Italy (2014); Girls Can Tell, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen, Germany (2014). Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Lenbachhaus, Munich, as well as numerous private collections, including the Saatchi Collection, London.