Mythologizing celebrity

Art installation surrounds familiar faces with symbols of worship

Celebrities sometimes earn the epithet “idol” and artist Andrea Williamson has paused to think about what that might mean — or perhaps what it might look like.

Her show at Pith Gallery & Studios The Immortal Maker is an installation rife with the symbolism of worship as well as images of pop culture icons. Williamson has long been interested in celebrity in its ubiquity and the power it holds over us despite having little relevance to our lives. “That internalizing of someone that you have no real connection to is interesting to me” she says giving examples like Breaking Bad hit man Jonathan Banks and rapper Kendrick Lamar. For celebrities generally she says “As soon as I find out something real about their life I make it into a myth.”

Williamson has used images of a number of familiar faces including Michael Fassbender Benedict Cumberbatch Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson. They might not be instantly familiar in the way that Williamson has presented them though. Fassbender’s face for example has been cast into a mould and then marred by acne. Cumberbatch has been melded with another face (Bill Callahan’s) and then surrounded by the fluted frames reminiscent of a stained-glass window. Both Watson and Johansson are cast as faux-marble silhouettes projecting from the wall.

Interestingly for a subject matter so rooted in countless flat images whether in tabloid print or on a computer screen Williamson has decided to make the entire show three-dimensional. “It’s my first time really working in sculpture” says Williamson. “[But] the sculptures that I’m doing are quite representational… they’re still kind of surfaces on top of objects. It doesn’t really make sense to put more images out in the world that are just flat; I’m more interested in creating an environment.”

The environment itself is constructed with care taking hints from temples of bygone civilizations. “I think that in itself inspires a religious feeling symmetry and order and beauty” says Williamson. The symmetry comes from the doubling and quadrupling of many of the show’s elements (for example she has cast Fassbender’s face not once but twice).

Treating celebrity faces with antique effects taps into the relationship that Williamson has to these famous images people and characters. “I think it’s just a strong desire on my part to want there to be a deeper meaning and a more historical meaning to the image culture that we have right now” she explains.

This relates to one of the objects that might seem out of place amongst the celebrities: a disposable Tim Hortons cup caked with fake stone to give it a shrine-like solidity. “I’m trying to make this throw-away thing look a little more archaic” she says explaining that the “roll-up-the-rim-to-win” cup had a hold on her that’s similar in a way to popular culture. “That’s maybe the same thing that’s happening with these throwaway celebrity personalities that they’re being reified to the status of god or oracles.”

The objects in The Immortal Maker run along a common theme but are still distinct enough to be open to the viewers’ interpretations. “I hope that there will be a sense of me mythologizing these people and living vicariously through their much more interesting lives and sensationalizing that” says Williamson.

At the heart of the sensationalism is a dose of humour directed at both the subject matter and our own reaction to it. “Playfulness can be a form of critique and subversion” she adds “so letting your imagination play with these things around us that are imposed can change them into something more personal.”