The Perfect Woman

NG Art Gallery Sydney

In a series of works, The Perfect Woman explores Susan O’Doherty’s fascination with female identity.  Pinioned on refashioned wooden boards, each figure is a proud display and specimen, laid out for investigation.

Put together from remnants of our manufactured world, these creatures are grotesque hybrids.  Furniture parts, obsolete home appliances and decorations form their bodies, with an eye to functionality.  The handle of a grinder recalls an arm, window sashes are limbs;an elegant hand-turned table leg becomes a torso.  At the centre of many, unlocking their secrets, are old-fashioned keyholes, set in metal doorplates – a comic book of eroticism.

Mounting boards are assembled from recycled wood, painted and patched to form internal landscapes.  Treated with O’Doherty’s high key palette, they blend with the patina of the untreated objects. Chalky, gentle hues give the works, you could almost say – beauty.

Dolls’ heads form focal points, holding the innocence of childish features, smooth cheeks, ruby lips.  Dismembered doll limbs sometimes grace the figures, adding to the ironies.  Their faces are intact and they gaze forward, apparently unaware of the travesty below.

At times, a head or collection of heads is all that remains to suggest gender.  nonetheless, these are unmistakably female.  In some, they smile brightly, gathered in bouquets and propped in vases, to grace the efforts of life’s more active participants.  These are the anxious watchers, the cheer squad that follows every move of the game without ever actually joining.  They have sacrificed mobility and the integrity of their bodies but their faces resist the ravages of time and that, apparently, is enough.

Enhanced, improved, reconstructed, The Perfect Woman holds up a distorting mirror to the social constructs that pretend to tell us what is feminine, what is attractive, what is possible.

Elizabeth Butel