Cathie Pilkington Weird Horses

Karsten Schubert London 21 April – 27 May

- Tom Morton

If equestrian sculpture is a genre we most readily associate with a pompous and bloodthirs­ty imperial past (think Joseph Boehm’s huge 1888 bronze of the mounted Duke of Wellington at London’s Hyde Park Corner), then in Cathie Pilkington’s Weird Horses it’s reborn as something tentative, tender and conceptual­ly fleet of foot. On the Table (all works 2023) is a large two-tier wooden workbench filled with nearlifesi­ze plaster, resin, cloth and straw sculptures of infant foals, their eyes drilled voids, their pale unpainted limbs marked with felt-tipped words (‘stumble’, ‘fallen’), like potsherds labelled during an archaeolog­ical dig.

None of the sculptures read as complete. Some have missing heads or hooves, or have been assembled from mismatched body parts. Others seem to be mutating into praying mantises, their zigzagging forelegs terminatin­g in sharp cruel spikes. Is this a defence mechanism? With their plump exposed hindquarte­rs and ingenuous smiles, many of these foals feel disturbing­ly vulnerable. Then there are the piles of broken limbs on the bench’s lower tier, tangled up with strips of glittery plastic, which echo the sparkly cabaret curtain hung incongruou­sly on a nearby wall, perhaps a reminder of the ambiguous place horses occupy in our cultural imaginary: if the artist’s show nods towards the rearing Classical stallions of the Parthenon frieze, then it also winks at the gentler candyfloss world of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010–19) franchise.

It’s unclear whether Pilkington’s bench is site of creation, conservati­on or hybridisat­ion; if the foals are in the process of being made, repaired or subjected to some brutal, Doctor Moreau-like experiment, which overwrites their original form, and with it their (art historical) meaning. The answer, of course, is none of the above: they’re not fragments from a lost past, but rather contempora­ry sculptures that have achieved their intended degree of finish. Neverthele­ss, Weird Horses is a show haunted by the struggle to birth the new from the old, something fresh and untainted from something exhausted and irreparabl­y compromise­d. Pilkington’s sequence of 12 small diagrammat­ic and mutedly luminous paintings, collective­ly titled Spectrum, depicts equine foetuses in utero. While their bodies have grown to full term, their limbs are arranged in such a way as to make their imminent passage into the outside world hazardous for both mare and foal. The background of each work is marked with thin horizontal or vertical stripes, like a readout from a flatlining monitor. These paintings seem to ask whether Pilkington’s plaster horses can reincarnat­e the dead genre of equestrian sculpture, or if they’re fated to come into the world stillborn.

 ?? © the artist and Perou. Courtesy Karsten Schubert London ?? Spectrum 8, 2023, felt tip and acrylic on linen board, 61 × 44 cm.
© the artist and Perou. Courtesy Karsten Schubert London Spectrum 8, 2023, felt tip and acrylic on linen board, 61 × 44 cm.

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