Irena Posner | Best in Show
The works by British artist Irena Posner (b. 1988) enter the realm of allegory, playfulness and humour to explore power structures through animal discourses, selective breeding and fetish.
Posner’s marble sculptures presented in the new exhibition Best in Show take domestication and the implicit compromise of freedoms for comfort as a central theme while strongly referencing the literary work of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and Donna Haraway and Michail Bulgakov (Heart of a Dog).
With a retrospective view on the portrayal of domestic animals in marble sculpture, there has been a lengthy tradition of animal carvings at the foot of royal tombs. The dog motif was typical for female funerary ornaments (lions for men) as symbols of devotion and fidelity. Posner’s works reconsider the representation and immortalisation of animals in the context of the human realm and the deification of domestic pets.
The steel muzzle welded directly onto the marble, the cropped pointed ears and docked tail of the Doberman in her sculpture, No tongue can tell, no tail can wag, are design features and signifiers of the curated pedigree. Trained and muzzled, the dog begets a status among other animals. Posner refers to Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet where canine training regimes involve the constant restraint of a dog’s desires until the ‘virtue’ of self-restraint is solidified, a distinctly human virtue that we inculcate in our pets.
The copulating dogs depicted in Posner’s work Dolce alludes to Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina, a sculpture that beautifies violence through the lure of stone. Capturing a brief encounter on a durational material, Posner recontextualises the marble, using the material as a testing ground for the implicit biases acquired by the marble as a material of veneration and subjugation.
Ultimately, Irena Posner challenges expectations for marble, questioning the material’s connection to idealisation and memorialisation. Instead of another female nude or idolised bust, Posner shines a light on subjects seldom chiselled while incorporating a socially critical viewing point.
‘There are strong opinions about what can and can’t be represented in marble. That frustration or perception that the material is used ‘improperly’ is kind of the sweet spot for me. It complicates our perception of what we thought was an innocuous piece of stone. Suddenly we are asking questions about value and what is worthy of being re-presented in marble.’
Irena PosnerDolce, 2023Carrara marble85 x 60 x 36 cm
33 1/2 x 23 5/8 x 14 1/8 in
Irena PosnerNo tongue can tell, no tail can wag, 2023Statuario marble and steel92 x 44 x 36 cm
36 1/4 x 17 3/8 x 14 1/8 in
Irena PosnerMind doesn’t matter when matter doesn’t mind, much, 2023Portuguese pink marble63 x 44.5 x 28 cm
24 3/4 x 17 1/2 x 11 in
Irena PosnerEva perched on a wood beam, 2022Statuario marble70 x 48 x 53 cm
27 1/2 x 18 7/8 x 20 7/8 in