Childhood has always been fertile ground for artists, writers and musicians to explore. Catherine Bainbridge’s exhibition, Rite of Passage takes the clichés and obsessions of childhood and explores their meaning in a way which is both comforting and sometimes unsettling. Childhood is a place that we never quite leave behind. However far we may travel from the setting where we begin it is where our deepest convictions and attitudes are formed. We may cling onto it, comfort ourselves with it, rail against it or hide from it but it is always there. We tell ourselves a story of how it was and as time goes on there are fewer people to challenge our own version of events and less evidence to cling to. It is an odd business.
I was reminded of a conversation that I had once with a perfectly ordinary grown woman who described how each day she would choose which of her soft toys were allowed to come down to breakfast with she and her husband. Catherine Bainbridge’s papier mache rabbits with their outer skins made from children’s story book texts and their little knitted outfits have the kind of comforting presence that makes you understand why someone might do this, but there is also something unsettling about them. Disconnected words mean secrets, text which can only be half understood, and their faces remain blank. A group of rabbits on the floor form a disconcerting group with their own identity, threatened by a seagull. Other animals appear, bringing with them their own mythology and resonance. A crow hangs motionless, caught up in twine and three hare heads stare out from the wall with empty eyes.
Among the animals strange blank faced children play and watch. They have the same storybook outer skins and the kind of cosy, comforting knitwear that shows that someone somewhere cares for them as they explore, observing, balancing and swinging. We can no more know their thoughts than we can know our own as we look back to the small child that we once were from a far off point that was once beyond our imagination. They have a connection with the strange world that they explore which is now beyond our reach.
I enjoyed this little exhibition very much and my chat with the artist over a cup of tea and a biscuit. It will be interesting to see what comes next. As Grayson Perry or Paula Rego would tell you this is a theme which can run and run and there are new and deeper levels of strangeness to explore.