As if looking through the eyes, thoughts, desires and memories of another, Marlene McCarty’s large scale graphite and ballpoint pen drawings unfold symmetrically like ‘Rorschachs’ in HD at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), Dublin. However, unlike the subjective violence and eroticism potentially perceived in Rorschach imagery (dependent on the psychological makeup of the individual), the American artist’s drawings of humans and primates are undressed – clothes stamped explicitly by TITS, COCKS, BALLS, FANNIES (European definition) and persistent NIPPLES.

If you have neither backstory nor context in your rucksack, then McCarty’s work – wonderfully dressing the scale of the RHA as if made to fit – initially comes across as flat and cutesy. The theoretically queer, mismatched families of humans and primates at first resemble Generation Woodstock, whom, we can only assume, have found themselves in the Congo as part of some tree-hugging exercise, but have went one step further and adopted the indigenous chimps and orang-utans. All things not considered, this has the appearance of animal-activism dressed in bell bottoms and porn star taches. That is, until you invest some time reading McCarty’s supplementary true-life stories that are presented as laminated handouts in the gallery. As you read, the seismographic stylus suddenly starts to wobble; the real-life examples of tormented adolescence and the selfishness and selflessness of human nature serving to activate the pencil and biro stratum of the fossilized visuals.

Up close McCarty’s drawing technique reminds one of adolescent doodles in school copy and text books that helped to fill in time, or for the socially awkward, dispel anxiety. Before McCarty reconstituted them, the true-life stories that form the backbone of the artist’s drawings would have presumably existed as short columns and fleeting headlines in provincial American newspapers; or, if sensational enough, CNN. McCarty’s re-representation of these true-life traumas place love and abuse on the same tableau: the male member acting as a quotation mark, enclosing tragic events that were built on unconditional ‘LOVE’.

Commonality between the stories and drawings is maladapted attachment, whether between child and parent, chimp and human. One extraordinary story involves a psychiatrist prescribing chimpanzee rearing to a couple, who, after thirteen years treating the chimp “Lucy” as a human child, decide they want to “live normal lives”. So, they take a stab at feralizing Lucy, and then hand her over to an anthropology student, who travels to The Gambia to acclimate Lucy for a planned few months, which stretches to ten years. This story ends badly, however, like the majority of the stories McCarty re-tells, when, just as Lucy is rehabilitated, she is killed by poachers.


Tragic Attachment(s)



Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

5 September – 20 October, 2013



Marlene McCarty, Group 2 (Norman, Oklahoma, 1964-1977, Baboon Island, The Gambla, Africa, 1977-1987), 2007). Graphite and ballpoint pen on paper, Approximately 284 x 558cm, image courtesy of the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., and the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin.

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