There are consistent descriptors synonymous with Frances Goodman’s practice – femininity, identity, and beauty. Often employing unconventional materials and methods, Goodman has spent most of her career traversing the expanse of womanhood – role-playing, pruning, objectification, and everything in between - she has used her artistic exploration to focus on individual agency about societal feminine projections.
Goodman's new solo exhibition, Altered States, is as much a collective trip as it is a journey into human consciousness. It is an exploration of humanity’s fragility, a vulnerability of the human condition (including her own) which the artist has rarely explored beyond the feminine perspective. Goodman ventures into ceramics for the first time, a medium she took up two years ago after emerging from the dense fog we had all been in since the pandemic. Upon completing a residency at the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) in the Netherlands in 2021, she was ready to put clay to hand and witness what emerged.
“I started working with ceramics because I felt safe and comfortable with the materials and processes I had been working with for years and I was yearning to be challenged again.” says the artist. The ‘Pillars’ – as Goodman refers to the sculptures – are ceramic pills and tablets, assembled to form jenga-like towers or totems that leave one somewhat discombobulated due to their sheer magnitude, and are eerie reminders of one’s mortality. From knee-high to foot-long, the pillars showcase various colours, sizes, and shapes of pills that bring to life the reality of what so many of us need to survive. Vitamins, painkillers, oral contraceptives, party starters, mood stabilisers… there isn’t a tablet that can’t be prescribed for a human condition at any given moment, for any given state. And yet, altering our state of mind goes far beyond the pills we pop.
Similar to not knowing what lies on the other side of a closed kiln, there is no guarantee that a mood/mind-altering or heath-enhancing pill or somewhat dubious substance can change your state of being. Similar to not knowing what lies on the other side of a closed kiln, there is no guarantee as to how a mood-altering or heath-enhancing pill may change your state of being. The artist explains, “Change can either make you or break you”. Like clay, pills have to be moulded into shape, and this rather paradoxically mirrors the maturation and figurative moulding needed to transform a human being into a Self - worthy of self-love and ‘inner peace’.
The new sculptures are accompanied by swirling ribbons and scrolls created in Goodman’s signature style using acrylic nails, emblazoned with motivational affirmations and quotes such as “Live/Love/Life” and “White Knuckling It” (a term often used by recovering addicts, that refers to powering through the struggle or anxiety of a challenging situation). In Altered States Goodman also expands on her unique technique of painting with sequins, using the glittering portraits as an elixir to the dullness of everyday life. Inspired by the works of British surrealist painter, Leanora Carrington, Goodman utilises sequins to reference and reimagine some of Carrington’s surrealist work, by relating them to our current obsession with magic realism as experienced in Cinemania as superheroes or apocalyptic villains, or at festivals by dressing up to escape our mundane realities back home. Some paintings are portrayals of dreamlike states created to mimic 3-D-like effects where the sequined characters almost leap out at you, while in others, sequins adorn elaborate costumes fit for a sci-fi series. A costume change, like popping a pill, can alter a mood and a room.
Grappling with her vulnerability has caused Goodman to look into the ever-changing human body and mind, that frequently vacillate between strength and frailty. As the world heaves and sighs through all the supersonic change we’re experiencing, pop culture points to our collective need to live in any world other than this one, where we’re able to fly and soar above our limitations.
“I think this body of work is me trying to make peace with how there are so many aspects within ourselves. We have that innate compulsion sometimes to escape our lives but also a sincere and earnest desire to improve ourselves. We need all these things – pills, affirmations, release, and so on – to prop ourselves up,” explains Goodman.
“I have always been interested in the body as a kind state or sovereignty. We turn inwards when we have little control over the outside world.”
A master inferrer, Goodman uses Altered States as a loupe to point our gaze at humanity’s need to escape or enhance life. From Ayahuasca retreats meant to open portals into the spiritual realm, to motivational quotes pinned as magic carpet rides to positive thinking, human beings are in constant search for remedies to help us love and accept the lives we have been given. Because maybe, just maybe, on a visceral level, we all recognize that changing your mind has the potential to change your life, for better or worse.
What Goodman achieves with this exhibition is to hold a mirror up to humanity – our yearning for healing and our inherent desire to dream, to be better – without judgment or exultation.