Kate MccGwire: Boundary Creatures

McAra, Catriona ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7680-4134 (2021) Kate MccGwire: Boundary Creatures. In: Kate MccGwire. Anomie. ISBN 9781910221259


This chapter explores the last two decades of Kate MccGwire’s oeuvre in relation to the history of twentieth century soft sculpture, abstraction and surrealism, especially with regard to feminist aesthetic histories. The grotesque and the uncanny have sustained a significant hold over MccGwire’s creative imagination, with interlocking thought-forms and otherworldly beings dominating her oeuvre. Critical readings of MccGwire’s work have tended to interpret such preoccupations as proof of her aesthetic allegiance to the curiosities revival, appealing to those interested in reactivating seventeenth-century historical artifice for contemporary purposes. Yet, given her shrewd attention to material and process coupled with an underlying conceptualism and emphasis on abstraction, MccGwire is clearly cognisant of much more historically recent art practices, an awareness which shifts any sense of artistic legacy elsewhere. This chapter unshackles MccGwire’s sculptures from existing critical limitations, towards a more liberated and revised understanding of how her work responds to a modernist aesthetic project, or, more specifically, how her work functions within a history of soft sculpture. To do this, it repositions key examples of MccGwire’s artworks through avant-garde abstraction, international surrealism, and American postminimalism. Indeed, it proposes after Mieke Bal (1999) we may even understand such artistic movements and provocations better through study of Kate MccGwire. Here, the feminine grotesque is understood through Donna Haraway’s notion of a ‘boundary creature’, ‘something that creates meaning by prying open a gap’ (Connelly, 2012). Haraway’s boundary creatures are hybrid, mythological monsters and sci-fi specimens, such as the cyborg and the mermaid. In the domain of modernist art history, this chapter proposes that soft sculpture is another boundary creature, an unruly challenge to the existing order of things. MccGwire is likewise a maker of boundary creatures, those that dwell on the exquisite nature of deviancy, channelling a feminine grotesque through the lessons of counter-modernism.

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