The Grass Is Greener…

We’re Gunna Need A Big Diaper…

Ron Mueck’s larger than life installation of “A Girl” is more than just a realistic sculpture of a baby. Extending over 16 feet in length, this infant demands attention. It is also fresh from the womb, umbilical cord still taking the place of the yet-to-come belly button. Mueck’s formalistic, realistic approach brings the viewer to an immediate state of shock and awe, every gory detail magnified twentyfold. Ron Mueck’s “A Girl” demonstrates exquisite hyper-realism in the uncanny form of a newborn baby girl so that the viewer considers the true significance of birth in life.

“A Girl” is at the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina) from September 25th, 2010 to January 2nd, 2011. The cross-Canada exhibition is called Real Life. “A Girl” is in the first room of the exhibition, and its size makes it an obligatory starting piece to the show. It is 1.1 meters high by 1.3 meters wide by 5.0 meters long. If its mother were in the show, she would be 17.8 meters tall.

Producing this level of realism on such a scale is a painstaking process. From miniatures, to molds, to castings, it takes months to make such true to life figures. Each synthetic hair is put in place one at a time. From hair follicles and skin blemishes to wrinkles and natural discolorations, no detail is overlooked, and the result is a strikingly realistic three-dimensional portrait.

There is an odd sense of the uncanny as the viewer approaches the baby; it is as if she could come alive at any moment. The viewer is left with an anxious feeling of uncertainty because, although intimately familiar, it is not of this world. Mueck even includes the bloody mucus that would appear on an infant to further the grotesque, but accurate qualities of the baby, disqualifying any presumptions that the figure is idealized. The painted skin blotches and vein coloring furthers the tromp-loi effect, making it difficult for the viewer to restrain from touching the object. To touch, the sculpture would be smooth and hard, but the fiberglass and matte paint causes its appearance to be that of skin: supple, soft, and still slimy from afterbirth. Her fists are clenched, and her face strained as she rests naked upon a cold white platform, giving the viewer further discomfort. This presents an incongruence of emotion for the viewer: sadness and angst. It creates an uneasy feeling of wanting to flee from the creature, but one’s instincts make the viewer want to care for it. Ron Mueck has done nothing less than create a perfectly life-like replication in a much larger than life form and by doing so raises radically different emotions from the viewer than if one were to see the baby in a merely life-size re-creation. His creative decisions have great purpose, forcing the viewer to consider birth in a new, much more real sense.

The space is also interesting. The sculpture is placed in one of the largest rooms in Saskatchewan, so it is not the baby that is out of place; the large room fits the baby easily. Rather, it is the viewers that are the intruders, not the child. The large room adds to the sensation that the viewers are out of place and the baby should be looked at as a realistic form, not as a ‘freak of nature’, as many might feel without such a space surrounding her.

The baby should resonate as familiar for the viewer, but there is no denying the feeling of absurdity regarding the object. It results in many questions. Babies should be precious, gentle, little gifts, but none of those descriptions register here. With this gargantuan infant, the viewer can more accurately view the reality of birth, or at least consider the other elements of bringing life into the world. Humans come into the world kicking and screaming, covered in blood and mucus, demanding to be fed, nurtured and held; yet they are helpless. The weight of this sized object represents that a child puts a large burden on those who choose to raise it. Birth is not peaceful and quiet, but very painful and immensely intrusive, but even when we see birth for all it is, can we still not find the beauty in it? “A Girl” is more than just a realistic magnification of a newborn. It is posing a question: “What do you think of me: absurd, disgusting, helpless, even wrong?”  Feelings and emotions are present when viewing the piece which appears to point out that humanity sugarcoats reality.

“Dead Dad”, another work of Mueck, gives a similar opportunity to look at life. Both “Dead Dad” and “A Girl” were treated with the same care to detail, but “Dead Dad” is fragile and diminutive, lying just over a foot in length. He appears quite emotionless, but peaceful. Both of these pieces are precise depictions of Mueck’s family members, suggesting that the scale represents his response to both the death of his father and the birth of his child. Death is quiet, lonesome and insignificant, while birth is the beginning of so very much. Birth is the beginning of opportunity, burden, achievement, revulsion and beauty.  Birth is large and loud.  However, there is a clear connection between the two pieces and what they represent. Both are naked and exposed to the world, allowing the world to make judgments upon them — and the world does judge. The world judges what someone has done and what they will do. The world judges what they are, what they have left behind and what they might become.

The question remains; can people truly see something simply for what it is, or are we destined to always add our own ideas of how things ought to be, and thereby become closed-minded? One might be inclined to say that Ron Mueck merely enlarged an element of real life, but this overlooks the fact that those who view “A Girl” will be compelled to consider the deeper truths of reality in birth.

(an art review; ART100)