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Baby Obey Me

Sian Costello is a multidisciplinary artist, based in Limerick, Ireland. Her work is characterised by a strong engagement with corporeality. The bodies she depicts, hers and others, human and non-human, are seldom shown in their entirety. They remain fragmented. They are distorted to some extent, glitching into the abstract: A self-portrait of Costello doesn’t show her face. A body of a horse, but the head is disguised. Costello reveals parts of bodies, but never the entire picture. She reveals part of a story, but never the whole plot.


Born in Roscommon, Ireland in 1998, Costello graduated from Fine Art Painting at the Limerick School of Art & Design in 2020. Costello has exhibited in solo and group shows both nationally and internationally. Her works build on an interest in femininity, feminism, corporeality, and perception raised by her experience as a woman working in a gendered tradition of figurative painting. Baby Obey Me is her first solo show in Switzerland.


Costello uses her own body to re-enact and to understand the experience of the model and the overlooked importance of female cooperation and patience in the Western painting tradition. This strategy of making unseen labour visible is rooted in feminist initiatives such as Wages Against Housework from the 1970s by Silvia Federici and others. Costello’s work can therefore be linked to Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Art Performance Series (1973-74) or Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1973-79). Both artists made “unseen” female labour visible.


In Figaro I, Figaro II, He's Almost Here I and He's Almost Here II (2023), on display at Modern Animals, Costello steps into the double role of painter and model, showing both sides, the “work” and the “labour” behind the painting. She chooses to position herself as the model; not in the act of self-portraiture but rather as a contemplation of the relation between the artist and the model, the viewer and the performer. In these works, Costello draws on the highly-feminized language of the Rococo and Baroque.


The women in these paintings have been idealised and eroticised to the point that they both repulse and allure in our age of the internet, filters, and hyper-self-image. By inserting her own body into the painting, Costello questions who has the authority over how we see ourselves. In her series Rapture of the Sisters I-III (2021) Costello sources inspiration from Peter Paul Rubens’ piece The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618). Rubens narrates the story of Phoebe and Hilaeira, sisters Leucippides, who are kidnapped and raped by the twin brothers, mortal Castor and immortal Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri. Costello reiterates the peak moment of abduction, but she reinterprets the story of Ruben’s classical piece. She deconstructs the kidnapping in a rougher, less narrative and more expressive way, with the intention to give the two sisters some of their lost integrity back. Costello uses a special technique – merging oil paint with pastel creates – to increase the tension of the story.


Hold it Down (2023) as well as Horse Girl I and Horse Girl II (2022) show Costello’s interest in merging human and non-human bodies into a posture that could be described as post-human. The semi-figurative, semi-abstract paintings show intertwined bodies of potential human and potential animal figures. The bodies merge into a hybrid being, semi-horse, semi-human.

Dr. David Iselin, June 2023


Baby Obey Me is kindly supported by Culture Ireland, Limerick City and County Council and Limerick Arts Office.

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