Too Cute: Sweet is about to get Sinister

“Artist and filmmaker Rachel Maclean examines the world of cuteness by curating works from the Arts Council Collection and Birmingham’s collection to reveal how objects and images can have the unique ability to be simultaneously sweet and yet sinister. Contemporary life is saturated by cuteness, from adult onesies to social media photo- filters, playground-like office spaces to wide eyed emoticons, we can’t move for all things sweet and cuddly. However, despite its pervasiveness in advertising, internet and commodity culture, cuteness often seems too frivolous to be deserving of proper analysis. In Too Cute! Rachel Maclean has made an exhibition where cuteness is taken seriously. She is fascinated by its ability to captivate and placate us and through her investigations into the collections she has explored both what it has meant to us historically and why contemporary society is so fixated on the sharing and reproduction of cute objects and images. Too Cute! presents a range of artworks showing different takes on ‘cuteness’. The works in the exhibition range from contemporary works to 19th-century oil paintings. Maclean’s fascination is with the elusive moment where cute objects slip into the sinister and instead of endearing, instil fear and disgust. The exhibition will be accompanied by an interpretative video with a twist! ‘Dr. Cute’ – a grotesque Care Bear like creature played by Maclean – will present a short lecture on the themes explored in the show. The doctor will attempt to put forward an academic account of cuteness and its affects, but will be constantly hindered by sudden emotional responses, as artworks incite reflexes of love, repulsion and fear. [source]

This exhibition was fantastic! I stumbled across the poster while being frustrated with errands not going well in town, and was immediately drawn in by the cutesy emojis!

The first thing you are presented with when walking into the exhibition is a bright pastel coloured projected film on the main wall, which is only just distracting enough from a giant fanged, yet adorable, mouth doorway that led through to the curated exhibition. I seemed to have walked in as the film was halfway through, so I decided to walk through the giant open jaws to view the artwork before watching the film.

I have always been a fan of the kitsch, the bizarre, the cute, and the creepy… so the works in this exhibition very much spoke to my tastes. It was akin to walking into a cabinet of curiosities, but one that had been coated with a thick layer of sickly sweet icing!
I enjoyed how much the room had been transformed with saccharine bright colours, and silky drapes of twee fabrics. It added to the feeling of being overwhelmed by cuteness, or in some cases being overwhelmed by creepiness!
I was especially enamoured by Gillian Wearing‘s Lily Cole. Lily Cole is a beautiful model, but in this photograph her face is obscured by a cracked, and peeling doll’s face mask. I think we can all agree dolls are a little creepy! In this instance the mask allows for the subversion of conventional expectations by destroying the cute with a less than pristine doll’s face hiding the beauty underneath.

After viewing the curated exhibition, I wandered back through the fanged doorway, and took my seat on a fluffy pink cube. The film was brilliant! I am now a little bit in love with Rachel Maclean, who stars as Dr Cute in this film. Dr Cute is a fuzzy blue bear with sharpened teeth, bright yellow hair, and a pink frilly suit, who attempts to present a lecture on “the effects of cuteness”… or she would if she could stop getting distracted by the cute things surrounding her! Choosing to dress as a teddy bear, Maclean is embodying the conflict between the emotions of cute; both kitsch,  friendly, and inviting… but also grotesque, frightening, and unsettling, especially when she rips the head off her own teddy bear in a fit of “sadomasochistic squeezing”.

The main though running through my head while watching Too Cute, other than connecting her words with artworks in the exhibition, was that Rachel Maclean was very much #ChimeraGoals!!!
I aspire to her level of filmmaking with my own Chimera films, and while I am maybe not confident enough to take on the role of acting myself… that is what collaboration is all about! and maybe if I’m lucky, I might end collaborating with Dr Cute one day… 😍

Too Cute (15)