Sleek, refined and lustrous, Ian Daniell’s second generation series of sculptures hang serenely from the ceiling, encircling the large single room at Under Dog Gallery. Suspended only by a thin, steel cable, the heavy resin and fibreglass objects appear to float effortlessly in mid-air. The bright gallery light practically slides off the curves of their iridescent, pastel surface. With painfully bulbous breasts atop a a super-tapered ribcage, the exaggerated female form files down to an erotic, oval shaped point. Seen from behind, they become pairs of gleaming, upturned buttocks, hanging in the air like cherry shaped balloons. Completely nonchalant, they give us a twirl.
2GS (2013) are the souped-up followers of Daniell’s earlier heart shaped pieces entitled ‘Promises’. Hanging like pendants from a kinky metal chain, Daniell overtly sexualised the ubiquitous love heart symbol with the addition of breasts and two dark glory holes. This first generation of sculptures drew on the form of the love doll to connect the abstract, inorganic and cutesy symbol of love within consumer culture, to the wipe-able plastic of the sexually objectified female form. The consistent, necessarily unsatiated and repeatedly disappointed desire of the consumer is made explicit within a pornographic form, an idea which is extracted and intensified in the 2GS series.
Whether I’m looking at dolls or designer goods, I see something missing. They are incomplete. They are devoid of the very experience that they promise to provide, whether it be an improved sex life or heightened sense of desirability. We are all in pursuit of happiness. But contrary to the messages of mass marketing and popular culture medias, it is not to be found via objects, be it designer goods or dolls.
Like the love heart series, 2GS comes in a serial product line, but now each ‘type’ or ‘style’ is only differentiated by its colour combination as opposed to an exploration of high end materials. Thus 2GS is reminiscent of an Apple-like promise of individuality presented to consumers buying identical products. Their names line up as if in a car show room: Citron, Dusk, Flux, Kala, Miami, Tropic, Classic and Sport. Each one is stylishly co-ordinated with one of Daniell’s 2d works, the Affluenza 2nd series, like components of a fashion line. The paintings are named after a text by Oliver James of the same name and reflect how Daniells has been heavily influenced by James’ idea of consumerism as a kind of disease. The simple phallic representations are multiplied into an abstract pattern which has both a pop-like artificiality and a reference to something more organic, like a swarm of little mushrooms or the peeking heads of seedlings. Daniells seems to suggest not only that consumerism capitalises on our inherent desires, leading us on forever, but that even the oddest and more destructive elements of those desires remain pernicious, being much more complex than the shallow-light reflecting surfaces of such objects suggest, because they are based in something quite natural.
2GS push up still harder against this question of a seemingly natural desire for the unnatural. Like a constantly developing product line, 2GS are a refined version of the love heart shape. The exaggerated contours of these new pieces are more human, if extortionately idealised, to become a cartoon of the enhanced female body. The obviousness of Promises’ glory holes become beguiling dimples, endowing the 2GS sculptures with an uncanny plasticity as opposed to that which is completely plastic. This new form, painstakingly perfected by the artist over many months, is curiously un-comical and uncomfortably one step short of a grotesque. Visitors to the private view of SuperPlasty were openly drawn to these objects, audibly venerating the perfected shape, material quality and the carefully chosen colour blend. Even the artist himself admits to being attracted to them. And yet the ridiculous level of sexual objectification is achingly clear. Disembodied to become un-bodily, impossible, they are glamorised things: objects hanging in space, rotating seductively for a worshipful phallic audience. Their robust beauty is obliquely partnered with a sense of damage to the female body. Equally, the different representative treatment of the male sex organ to the idealised, un-sexed and passive components of a female body within SuperPlasty is obvious, reflecting the transparently unequal level to which male and female bodies are objectified within and without consumerist culture.
Meeting the Affluenza series’ lustful penile gaze from across the room solidified the sense of discomfort with which I enjoyed the perfected aesthetic of 2GS. At the centre of everything is the desiring gaze of the viewer. The blatancy of the forms, almost taken as a given, are not shocking. What is shocking is the ease with which the commodity fetish can hide in plain sight, slinking behind the distracting sparkle of a well crafted veneer.
Openly inspired by the work of Hans Bellmer, Daniels has technologically refined the cut down, blown and buffed up, passively dismembered mannequin object. Quoting J.G Ballard, Daniells explains how his idea that “sex times technology is the future” has in fact become the present. Hinting at a third generation of work, Daniells is perturbed and fascinated by the current technology available to create hyper-real love dolls. These uncanny objects may prove a further method with which to approach an investigation into both love, sex, desire and the human ability to grow attached to what he calls the “incomplete” object – incomplete in the sense that it cannot love back. Floating before us, 2GS appears to be entirely complete in and of itself. It hovers in the space of unfulfilled desire as a cold, distant thing, nipples forever looking disinterestedly skyward.
However, this sense of being untouched, of coming clean from its wrapping, lies within the hidden craft of the object. The artist deliberately makes no sign of a maker’s mark in his paintings or his sculptures. Like any object that comes off an automated production line or appears magically from an internet order, the craft, labour or technology is as inaccessible as that behind an iPad’s glowing interface. Yet both are made painstakingly by hand in the artist’s studio. Their completeness is surface level. So much about these works is concerned with the surface, the finish, the aesthetic. Yet that surface aesthetic is the opposite of simple or shallow and leads to far deeper questions we might make of human desires. Achieving an honest understanding of these very desires is often deflected by the continual anticipation of satisfaction inspired by that very same surface of the commodity object itself.
As such, their blatancy – 2GS’s obviousness in being seductive objects – mirrors the subtlety of the commodity design they emulate. They are what they are. Which is, like many other art objects, commodities. The artist has even made special wall brackets for the 2GS sculptures for clients to display them more easily in their homes, while his paintings can be hung like any other. Like the commodity culture that Daniells is investigating, his work is brutally honest in its artifice.