• Fern O'Carolan

    At Slugtown, we were thrilled to present chloé (with an i) by Fern O'Carolan in summer 2023.

    In her debut European solo presentation, O’Carolan skewers aesthetics of girlhood, adolescent searches for identity and the achy space between knowing everything and knowing nothing.

    We caught up with Fern to discuss the themes she referenced in her show.

    Explore Fern O'Carolan works 
  • The body of work you’ve produced for this exhibition focuses on a particular stage of adolescence and how we attempt to navigate this. What draws you to this specific time period?

    Before I got approached to do this show at Slugtown I was at home in Dublin visiting, and in a bout of nostalgia one night I decided to just go through my childhood ephemera. Among my old toys and clothes I came across this memory box I had made from the age of 11-18 that I completely forgot I had. This box hadn’t been opened for 10+ years so when it was opened I completely transcended back in time. It has everything in it from photographs, love letters, kiss lists, notes from old friends, concert tickets, school report cards, etc. When I read the letters I had written in particular, it was both sad and funny to see what my teenage self was thinking and feeling at that particular time. You can feel the intensity and struggle, it was like looking into somebody else's life, everything was either life or death. Now that I'm older and in a better place I've gained a broader perspective on what matters.

    Although young girls today are exposed to a different world than what I experienced, adolescence and evolving into adulthood is universal no matter what time period. People's experiences are varied however, as someone who had a turbulent time this particular project is an attempt to convey the sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel, the people in magazines don’t matter and you can laugh at the dramatics 15 years later.

  • All the sculptures have an innate softness to them, both in their material quality and the imagery within the compositions. Was this a significant consideration when developing this body of work?

    The work is a play on the aesthetics of femininity, the fabric acts a tool to reflect this. Eschewing the cute, soft and comforting imagery in favour of an aesthetic language seeking to challenge the value of innocence as much as it does the embracing of corruption.

    There’s a tension in your work between the digitally printed velvet surfaces with sewing and other craft processes. Can you talk about the importance of this interplay?

    I like to embrace craft processes, from sewing to collage – as a casual nod to women’s work – to produce a series of work capable of challenging contemporary notions of femininity. However, it’s not something I really think about, it’s more of a pragmatic approach. My dad taught me how to sew as did the nuns in school, then it just stuck. This way of assemblage is something I've always enjoyed, I used to sew all my work by hand. My solo show You’ll Never Get To Heaven at NO Gallery, NY was all sewn by hand. Now I use a sewing machine.

  • You’ve often described your sculptures as modular, with various metal chains, connectors and hoops joining the various charms together in constellations. When producing the works do you have a clear idea of how each piece is going to be resolved or does the context and space they are exhibited in dictate their final form?

    My approach to this is organic and unrestricted, it’s really important that the work flows naturally depending on the space. I treat my works as collages, I’ll plan them prior but depending on how they move or converse with one another in the space, the modular approach allows them to be altered. Having fun both making my work and installing it is so important and keeping it as playful as possible is key. The regimented straight cut approach isn’t me and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Art these days is so serious you know, I like to take somewhat heavy subject matters and represent them in a way that is lighthearted.

    How do you source and select the imagery for the works and do any of the images hold a personal significance?

    Rather than using images of myself within my work I use different components from different sources, mostly being scans, these are used to make up a storyboard, an allegory for my own experiences. The particular images used in chloé (with an i) are in reference to the objects I myself used to have in my bedroom as an adolescent, stuffed bunnies, velvet ribbons, a PVC jacket, silver charms etc. The show is a mashup of all of that, skewed and distant memories all jumbled up into one, like a distorted version of my childhood bedroom.