Cathie Pilkington’s work is a kind of taxidermy in the expanded field of art. It is a taxidermy of discarded, outmoded objects rather than carcasses. There is no material or object so utterly dead and dilapidated that it cannot be ‘sat up’, stitched up and reanimated. Pilkington’s work is full of these cast offs, The charity shop, jumble sale things that are spliced into her otherwise emphatically sculptural practice have been liberated from the commodity rat race. They have drifted into the demimonde of the car boot and trestle table before being subject to Pilkington’s peculiar version of detournement. There is something ‘outsider-ish’ about her use of the sophisticated strategy of appropriation. Never has the assisted ready-made been so intensively hand-made, so affectionately homespun.
The presentational mode of Pilkington’s work is always the tableau. This is the governing mode even when the figure/objects are simple and singular (often dogs, the underdog, the uberdog, good dog/bad dog, the dog as a medium in its loyal and whimpering self). The tableau is a popular and sentimental mode. Its aim is to involve the beholder as directly as possible with a presence that is vivid and theatrical. But the tableau’s promise of involvement can never be fulfilled. There is an unbridgeable gap between the real gallery space and the virtual space of the frozen drama, and in the end it is the beholder’s estrangement from the scene represented that gets the upper hand. It is this simultaneous involvement and estrangement that is at the kapok heart of Pilkington’s ‘taxidermy’. Her use of almost familiar but displaced domestic materials amplifies the tableau effect: the scenes are both homely and ‘unheimlich’
Courtesy of the artist’s website.