Exhibition Essays

2004 Reviews

December 2004

My Sister’s Lashes Review

Jessica Reid

As the reality TV ‘idol' phenomenon has demonstrated, rock n' roll (or its castrated, mutant imitations) captures teenage desire like little else. My sister's lashes, by Sarah Jane Parton, plays with both teenage dreams and childhood memories; combining dual video projections with gallery wall drawings and real-life plant sculptures. Parton's installation explores a range of ideas such as humour and pop-culture, memory and nostalgia, gender and sexuality, family and identity.

On the larger wall, dominating the space, a dolled-up male does a posturing, strutting spoof of Jon Bon Jovi's ‘You give love a bad name' replete with blonde wig, purple lycra and cowboy boots. Simultaneously, a second smaller projection lower down on a side wall, shows the artist from a high camera angle; rendering her small and girlish. She is playing along on a keyboard; its tinny, synth-sounds, neuter and subvert the lyrics. Words such as: "No one can save me, the damage is done" is imbued with angst and pathos.

There are several differences between the screens, which at first may appear dichotomous. While the male performer is cringingly confident, pushing the audience's comfort boundaries by singing directly to the camera or shaking some body part suggestively towards it, his female counterpart is coy, wistful, awkward or even bored. Her girlish voice contrasts with the testosterone-heavy ‘cock rock' song and jars with her ‘Guns and Roses' T-shirt. It is this same rose motif which is taken up elsewhere in the installation. While the male performer moves, dances and even dominates his white space, the female seems lost within it. However there is potential for the relationship to be even more complicated- is the male representing the alter-ego she dreams of becoming herself? Or does she pine for him? is he the object of her teenage crush? Or is he there merely for our, the audience's, amusement? While the two performances have their differences they are both integral to creating a cohesive song together.

The opposite wall of the gallery has drawings in make-up, biro, and Vaseline including a large cat with exaggerated eye lashes, roses, a milkshake, girls laughing and playing, and high-school-pencil-case doodles, all applied directly to the wall. The cat is rendered in black eyeliner, the girls have mascara hair. One of the girls is in a state of uncomfortable transition, mid-metamorphosis- she has grown the ears and nose of a cat. Faded and bleached like old photographs only the brightest, sugary-est, lipstick-pink and sparkliest beige of foundation are left in their muted outlines. Large roses have been formed texturally on the gallery windows out of masking tape. They are most obviously signifiers of femininity but also have personal family meaning for the artist.

Ideas of growth and change are continued in the plant dishes. These plant sculptures are unruly mutations, growing lusciously from vegetable off-cuts, they look like a child's drawing come to life. Their adventitious roots are delicately cotton-like. They struggle for nutrients, but it's a futile struggle; they will never produce food for us. These dishes can also be seen as verdant islands in the ‘sea' of the gallery floor; a reference to the artist's pacific island origin. These vegetable saucers, both literally and figuratively, quietly complete the show.