Fairy tales and found art: Alison Erika Forde at Manchester Art Gallery

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor

Subversive charity-shop kitsch is one way to describe the local artist’s exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery.

Sandwiched between Manchester Art Gallery’s busy shop and a somewhat more traditional display about Victorian philanthropist, Thomas Horsfall, is The Tallest of Tales. A surreal bridge between the two rooms, Alison Erika Forde’s first solo exhibition catches you off guard and has already caused several visitors to do a visible double take. It could have something to do with Forde’s deliberately miss-matched, hotchpotch aesthetic. Appropriating discarded pieces of furniture and the kind of gaudy paintings usually found in your local Oxfam, she uses these found objects to overlay faux-naïve, folkloric narratives and characters; all of which seem akin to the recycled cultural debris with which she works.

A wooden hut becomes a gallery space within a gallery space within a gallery

A dark sense of humour pervades Forde’s work. One of the larger pieces, “The Lady in the Lake”, shows a snowy Alpine scene into which Forde plants a nymph-like woman (with notably hairy legs) taking a bath and apparently immune to the stares of a party of male onlookers. Another work, collectively titled “Let’s all do the Conga” shows a succession of spliced woodland animals inexplicably dancing the conga across four framed canvases. But the works on the wall aren’t the whole story, as Forde aims to create “more of an installation environment” via a painted totem pole, hanging stuffed doll and a cluster of toadstools. But it’s the wooden hut that dominates the centre of the gallery space. Initially, it appears to evoke the enchanted forests of Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood, but venture inside and it provides a second display area for a number of additional works. It’s like a gallery space within a gallery space within a gallery. The hut’s cramped interior and the semi-erotic content of the paintings it houses give the space a strangely “adult” feel, altering the experience of the exhibition’s remaining works. It’s a strangely unsettling show. Wendy houses and fairy tales characters will never look the same again.

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