28 October – 3 December 1994
For her first exhibition in the UK, the New York artist Karen Kilimnik created an unnerving theatrical installation that invited the viewer into a world of self-imposed adolescent isolation, obsession and anxiety.
Kilimnik makes work in the guise of an alienated teenager, pieces that demonstrate a degree of nostalgia for that difficult age when a child is on the threshold of being an adult. The sources she plunders range from trashy movies to real-life events. For the show, Kilimnik took as her starting point from two American made-for-TV melodramas set in 1970s England, The Devil’s Web and The Legacy. The plots of these schlock-horror movies feature the world of the occult: satanic possession, black magic and mysterious deaths. Drawing on these themes, Kilimnik’s installation transformed the white-walled gallery space into a mock-gothic set, in which she wanted the viewer to ‘feel like you had just walked into one of the episodes.’
At the entrance to the gallery the word ‘sanctuary’ was painted, immediately setting a particular tone that transformed the viewer’s expectations of what the space was to offer. The walls inside were painted a deep blue/black, and dotted with roughly sketched clouds and lightning bolts. Autumn leaves covered the floor and were blown around by two electric fans. Scattered props were left as ‘clues’ to be encountered by the viewer, including an old pistol that hung on a wall, like a prop leftover from an amateur dramatics production. An audio track shifted between the sound of howling wind, a Blur tune, and Frank Sinatra singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
This setting provided the backdrop for the display of guilt-framed pastel works in which scenes and stars from the two TV films were depicted in a casual style that brought to mind a teenage fan copying from screen stills. In making the artifice of this environment explicit, Kilimnik allowed it to function as a site for fantasy, play and open-ended fiction. In entering the space, the viewer was presented with the tantalising fragments of a possible narrative, and invited to the reconstruct it.