In the beginning you had a best friend. Jury’s out on whether they understood you (or you them). You might have been terribly lonely, terribly angry or terribly, terribly sad. These feelings were not mutually exclusive. Maybe you cared so much about something it hurt. Maybe it was going to hurt you anyway, maybe you liked to hurt yourself. Consumption possessed a special kind of magic, it allowed you to live within the dissonance that is your objectification.
A lot is projected upon you. You could be a fantasy, you could be a muse, you could be a liar. You could be endless.
The French filmmaker Catherine Breillat once wrote “the young girl exists only in order to cease to be.” Breillat’s statement is not about a physical death per se, but more on the intensity of first times. These ghosts of girlhood always seem to linger.
Girlhood is a difficult idea to articulate as there are as many types of girlhoods as there are girls, women, transwomen and femme folks in the world. While popular culture is transfixed by the image of the girl, it’s an image that’s rarely, if ever, understood. The girl is indeed endless, she is an image that repeats on a loop, but language always fails her. There’s no room for girls in our shared vocabulary.
Yet, in these failures, these unknowns, these endless images of girlhood ghostly and gone, there’s space for something radical to happen. Veronica Clements’ show “Pinky Promise” exists in this space of possibility, as Clements’ neon-saturated still lifes and sculptural works present a girlhood suffused with joy. Inspired by the religious vanitas painting (a genre of artwork the origins of which stem from the ancient world, but gained its modern meaning as a vehicle for moral instruction in the seventeenth century), Clements’ eye for composition is impeccable: satins syrupy with shadow glimmer fuschia and lilac below cherries, stickers, bongs and rhinestones that tumble with abandon.
Behind Clements’ aesthetic appreciation for these markers of girldom, there’s a welcoming openness. Hellfire and damnation do not exist in this world, rather there is a languid sensuality and a joy for living, touching, feeling and experiencing within a girl’s body. Death here too has a different sort of power. Graphic skulls, friendlier then their Halloween brethren, bloom unexpectedly against baby’s breath and stickers. It’s a reminder that death can also be change and that first times can be celebrated rather than mourned. Clements lets her girlhood be a space for humor, freedom and the lovely, very human, weirdness that comes from them both.
In paintings emblazoned with the words “Passion” or “Vanity,” the eyes of a Barbie doll and a chihuahua loom large against baby blue fields of color. First cars roam freely against wisps of clouds and roses. In picture planes bathed with the light of disco floors, you can remember the stickiness of cola and the back seats of cars, sandals that chafed tender flesh and the first time you felt the power of your heartbeat.
“Pinky Promise” shows that the young girl doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to suffer, doesn’t have to destroy herself.
The young girl can create with her mind, her body, her paintbrush; and she never really dies. She simply grows up.
“Pinky Promise” at Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central Street, Evanston, through September 10.