Lauren Kelley’s stop-motion animation, True Falsetto (2011), on view in her show Puce Parade at Zoya Tommy Contemporary, clocks in at just over two minutes, but has a gravity and melancholy that has stuck with me since. A grandiose picnic scene is deserted and slowly infested with flies as jazz singer Alfred Prysock reads in a baritone voice Walter Benton’s heartbreaking poem about preparing a perfect picnic for a woman who never shows up. The man says, “I had everything you loved,” as he describes an elaborate feast of shellfish, watercress, black olives, smoked cheese, sausages, and cakes with “rich brown maple syrup,” all handmade by Kelley in loving detail that does not disguise the lumpy clay bodies of the flies or the pancakes made from sponges. The flies swarm, slowly consuming the meal. At the end, one fly morbidly drowns in a cup of coffee as Prysock repeats, “But you did not come. You did not come.” The ideal of perfect love and romance is met with the reality of hope slowly eaten away and desire left unfulfilled. The flies are gorged and intoxicated on the saccharine meal to the point of self-destruction, showing a darker side to the yearning for a romantic ideal.
This video is accompanied by brief, looping animations and storyboard collages that often whimsically play with ideals butting up against disjointed realities. Kelley’s short animations feel like sketchbook pages for a larger work. In one of my favorites, a pair of pink women’s shoes subtly grow and pulsate like a living thing. The normally inert, seductive surface of beauty and fashion seethes with something else. Desire for the material object and the psychological forces that drive it feel injected into the shoes, animated, and made real. In another wonderful short animation, a pink toy telephone (the old kind, not a cell phone) slowly grows cords that loop and connect. The lifeline of a teenager’s world is made weird and creature-like.
The collages that are made in Photoshop are storyboards for past animations and future ideas full of manicured toes, frosted cakes, dolls, and more flies. In Stack 2 (2011) created for her video Froufrou Conclusions, a tan Barbie doll impossibly teeters gooey slivers of cakes and cupcakes on her head. The slender Barbie balances the weight of a feminine ideal and what a beauty pageant queen stereotypically shouldn’t eat. Kelley often uses African American barbies to get at issues of race and representation in the not-so-innocent, sexualized world of dolls and notions of beauty. Kelley says she is “inspired by the malleable nature of young minds and the twisted intricacies of immature adults.” Running throughout her work is a deep empathy for the pleasures and pressures associated with the world of adolescent yearning and immediate gratification. Kelley’s animations and collages manage to explore the intensity of unfulfilled desire, idealized glamour pierced, and romantic love lost in a serious way, while still holding onto a refreshing levity.
Only one week left, Lauren Kelley’s Puce Parade closes on October 5 at Zoya Tommy Contemporary in Houston.