An Unexpected Disquiet, Surprise, and Charm:
A Few Words on the Art of Ryn Wilson
I first saw Ryn Wilson’s work in 2010 when I judged the Clarence John Laughlin Prize, for which she was one of the finalists. I admired her work and offered to write about it should she ever want me to. Her photographs kept pulling me back to them again and again. Her work is often about things having gone wrong—seriously wrong—yet Wilson manages to see an element of humor in the disasters, or “Seriously Failed Attempts,” as she calls them. A girl with an injured foot has fallen down stairs, but it appears as if she was trying to manipulate her way up the stairs with three sets of crutches. An elegant lady in a rich black dress is trying to stop her nose from bleeding but has blocked the wrong nostril. Another lady in a blue slip who is obviously perplexed and confounded stands in a bath tub trying to trim her hair but has made a mess of her hair, the tub, and the entire bathroom. Serious art that seems to verge on tragedy yet can usurp humor by intruding into it a jocular stance immediately captivates a viewer, if only because it is so surprising and rare today in our self-consciously serious times. Wilson describes some of this work as “film stills,” but hers are nothing like Cindy Sherman’s boring stills. These are stills caught at a moment of crisis. When the moment is as critical and the art is as intense as Wilson’s—intense in its drama, oddness, and peculiar beauty—it is a surprise and a revelation. And Wilson suggests to us that all tragic revelation need not be weighted with Sophoclean or Shakespearian doom. The smaller, odd, peculiar, homely tragedies, our “Seriously Failed Attempts,” are as real to us as Phaedra’s or Lady Macbeth’s were to them.
In another series entitled “Inhuman,” a girl with long blond hair continues to have problems with a mannequins and black ooze. These might also be seen as being somewhat humorous, but to my eye they seem far more disquieting. The ooze looks like black blood, especially on her legs and thighs, and the mannequin is always fragmentary or has actually come apart in each of the images. And so the viewer is left wondering if the girl is soon to come apart, as well. There is even a frightening element of Nakata’s film Ringu about these photographs. And one of the most curious aspects of them is again their peculiar beauty—as well as a disquieting eroticism, an eroticism that is not overt and only suggested subtly through the girl’s hair, her obvious vulnerability, and the bits of the mannequin’s body.
Ryn Wilson’s art requires us spend as much time trying to understand our emotional response to it as it does to the question of what her work might mean. With her art one should forget the old-fashioned questions of meaning and be open to an emotional jostling. Her art has the power to jostle our emotions through a surprising blend of unexpected imagery. We are left charmed, charmed in its most magical sense, by what she offers us: the rich complex of emotions we desire and demand from any authentic work of art.