FEATURING: SANDRA LANE, BRADLEY WOOD
Trophies have a dark past: in ancient warfare, all over the world, a trophy was anything plundered, severed or stolen from the defeated and deceased. A scalp, a skull, an arm or a leg would do nicely as a gruesome display of victory and macho power. The traditional cup-shaped trophy derives from Ancient Greece and Rome too: at sporting events, the winner was awarded a prize of olive oil, in a vase or chalice-shaped vessel. Christiano Ronaldo - a very trophied man - when receiving the oversized trophy for best player at Serie A in May, struggled to keep a grip on the thing, swinging it into members of his family in front of the world's media who were there to capture the blunder so it could be memed into infinity.
Perhaps, like me, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "trophy" are not the awards on a mantel but the misogynistic term, "trophy wife". This association is also shared by Sandra Lane, who became an artist to "attempt to escape pleasing others". The trophy wife -- the young, decorative woman who exists purely to please a man and reaffirm his status -- is a notion Lane grew up with, and one she finds herself revisiting now.
While making the sculptures for Trophy Lane went back to her early teens, remembering the heavy make-up she would use to "redraw my face". Eyes, lips, lashes, bows and empty wigs - based on a 1960s Mary Quant poster - are crafted in ceramic with plenty of irony. A giant pair of platform heels - far too big and clumsy for any foot - are particularly compelling in their overdone femininity, an allure that is intensely visceral. Conscious of our desire as women to perform femininity through consuming while simultaneously critiquing the objects we dress up in, Lane says, "I feel I am playing with a kind of Mrs Potato Head which is a way of thinking about identity and to what extent it is connected with how one looks."
Looks can be deceiving, but how you look matters. No one observes this more shrewdly than Bradley Wood in his lush oil paintings; recalling the woozy perspectives of Kirchner, his decadent scenes take place in the fictional private residences of the elite. It's as though you're there, but someone has slipped something into your drink - or perhaps you arrived on LSD. Either way, you, the viewer, are not part of this world, Wood places you where he is, a voyeur who peeps at parties with "a complicated spectrum of feelings toward the people I paint. Love, hatred, empathy, admiration, jealousy all makes the narrative more interesting."
Wood grew up in a small town in Western Canada and had never encountered wealth, even from a distance. It was only in his early adulthood, when he went to study in Switzerland, that he began to enter the world of the rich, and later in San Francisco and New York "witnessing firsthand the crazy sudden wealth and conspicuous extravagance of the late 1990's economic boom, followed by the sudden bust."
The status of these extravagant characters is evident, their sense of achievement displayed through contemporary trophies - designer furniture, pricey artwork, expensive clothes, exotic food. But they are also vulnerable, made fragile by Wood's heady gaze: they clutch to their chaise longues and their champagne glasses, reassured of their success by their chandeliers, but they are warped, at times, even repulsive. "A part of us wants to be in it while another part is horrified that we want to be in it", Wood explains.
Each of Wood's scenes is created with diligent details: the personalities and idiosyncracies of his imagined characters constructed through their belongings. In this way, Wood touches on a deeper truth about trophies; that we are what we own. We all have a little bit of Dorian Gray in us, after all.
A trophy is a symbol of desire and dominance; it is a way of peacocking our performances. In our digital age, trophies may now even be as intangible as Instagram posts, but they are still a part of our daily existence, tiny triumphs we lord over each other. Through the space their work creates, Lane and Wood reveal the dark nature of our competitive culture. As Wood puts it: "it's a bit like being on a merry-go-round. Enjoying the ride, but not staying on it too long or I'll start to feel sick."
— Charlotte Jansen, June 2019
Charlotte Jansen is a writer and curator based in London. She is editor at large at Elephant.