The ICA is pleased to present From her wooden sleep…, a major new work by the German-born Canadian artist-curator, Ydessa Hendeles. In this work, Hendeles draws together disparate elements to compose a tightly choreographed tableau vivant. Central to the installation is a remarkable and unique collection of 150 wooden artist manikins assembled by Hendeles over thirty years. Ranging from 1520 to 1930 and in scale from palm-size to life-size, the manikins surround a lone figure that stands exposed in their collective gaze. The intense focus of the scenario suggests a community gathering — perhaps in a courtroom, or at an auction, anatomy lesson or drawing class.
From her wooden sleep… continues Hendeles’s exploration of difference and diversity, in particular the way representation and distortion, appropriation and assimilation filter group and individual identities. The title of the show is taken from Florence K. Upton’s best-selling 1895 children’s book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a "Golliwogg," about the nocturnal adventures of two wooden peg dolls on Christmas Eve. Created and named by Upton, Golliwogg was the first black protagonist in English picture books. He became a much-loved character among children, who were largely oblivious to its relationship to prevalent racial stereotypes that were considered acceptable at the time. His far-reaching popularity was superseded only by that of the teddy bear. Indeed, his fame and influence would bridge the gap between popular culture and high art by inspiring the most popular movement of Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite of 1908. In the mid-20th century, however, the character became a controversial symbol of racism, his very name becoming a racist slur. Like earlier Hendeles curatorial compositions, From her wooden sleep… graphically realises her interest in the way crazes define culture and social dynamics — for better and for worse.