I Might be Falling Down but I Can Barely Tell | Caity Reynolds

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Kimberley Peel
Caity Reynolds responds to the exhibition 'What a Flop' by Hailey Atkins & Aishla Manning, part of our 2017 program.

I Might be Falling Down but I Can Barely Tell – I am too busy concentrating on

not vomiting from the intense vertigo.

By Caity Reynolds

There seems to be some deeply held anxiety that admitting to folly is an act of

seeking pity. Artists often shy away from divulging too much for fear of becoming

a social pariah; that the mere assertion that perhaps maybe everything is not ok,

even through skillfully crafted metaphor, creates a discourse of self-indulgence.

Much like the work in ‘What a Flop’ itself, this polarizing notion of apparent hubris

by way of confession, challenges social conventions. However it becomes

evident fairly quickly that these unspoken rules, norms and values can only be

speculatively assumed at best. This seemingly tacit knowledge of community

expectations finds itself under the scrutiny of Hailey Atkins and Aishla Manning –

artists at odds with social codes that leave little room for false steps, blunders or


Manning and Atkins are not afraid of failure. Which is not to say that their works

have inherently failed or they themselves have either but rather that they are

willing to broadcast their own belligerence at this social convention and do so

with a decisive wit. Their practices utilise a gentle hand when doling out the

jokes, their engagement with humour is subtle and fastidious. Remarkably, this

subtlety is not hindered by the fact that both artists appear to champion ‘the fall’

as an allegorical tool, relying on associations to slapstick humour and physical


This convention of slapstick cinema appears more overtly in Manning’s work –

the fall acts as a narrative device wherein an object in motion is acted upon by

forces of gravity. The viewer endures what appears to be an aimless marriage

between two materially different objects. The continued prodding of firm against

lenient does not end with a satisfying resolution. This absurd act demonstrates a

frustration of the artist and eventually of the viewer, an almost Sisyphusian1 angst

towards fruitless labour.

While not explicit in the slipshod plaster sculptures of Atkins, falling, is still

present. Here it is the potential for these awkwardly upright buttresses, loops and

eggs to find their way unceremoniously to the ground that yokes the work to the

notion of ‘the fall’. Atkins manages to capture a liquid like anxiety that oozes its

way into rigid plaster bodies. The tension created by these forms (hopefully) not

falling activates something of an existential dread. If they were to sit gracefully on

the ground, fragile though monstrous in appearance, the viewer would not be

faced with the potential dilemma of being the individual to remove the works from

their unstable position on the vertical plane.

The physical failure of a body to remain upright produces humour in a number of

ways – the human body by virtue of its structure is intended (for want of a better

word) to stand erect. To subvert this expectation through the act of falling or even

stumbling is to see a body in a state of failure. Inevitably, this incongruity

between what is expected and what has occurred is where we often find

ourselves laughing. But in order for this to take place there must have once been

congruence2, in essence a social structure in which we anticipate things to

behave just so: a rational body prior to the fall. It comes as no surprise then, that

the works of Manning and Atkins serve to question these social structures

through the visual codes of slapstick.

Slapstick is often touted as a heavy-handed departure from more discriminating

and nuanced forms of humour. Yet here, ironically, both artists use conventions

of the genre as discerning metaphors in order to subvert commonly held social


A typically physical manifestation of humour, slapstick is a comedic strategy that

is sometimes described as relentless exodus, ‘an infinite action that never

arrives, never gets anywhere’3 aligns almost seamlessly with the irresolute nature

of Manning and Atkin’s work.

The works are tentative and this is not a bad thing. This hesitancy captures

precisely the space in which awkward bodies navigate uncomfortable social

situations. These works do not find resolution through the impact of the fall; they

remain in a permanent state of descent. They are funny and tender –

sympathetic to their audience, a visual admission that falling down, while

potentially embarrassing, is ok and that folly and failure should not be seen as

radical acts of vulnerability. A fall from grace is simply an optimistic visit to the


1 Camus, Albert 1969. The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays: Translated from the French

by Justin O'Brien. AA Knopf,

2 Critchley, Simon in Lunn, Felicity, and Heike Munder, eds. 2005 When humour becomes

painful. JRP-Ringier. P.45

3 Stewart, Susan in Cornwell, Neil. 2006. The Absurd in Literature. Manchester University

press. p.20