Shary Boyle, “Judy” (detail) (2021), iron, foam, textiles, electronics, motor, wax, human hair, oil paint, silicone, stoneware (all images courtesy the artist and Patel Brown Gallery, all photos by John Jones)

Shary Boyle: Outside the Palace of Me aims to explore the forces that create our inner and outer selves, both individual and collective. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City through February 25, 2024, the multisensory solo exhibition of new works by the Canadian visual artist includes sculpted ceramics, life-sized automatons, two-way mirrors, a coin-operated sculpture, and an interactive soundtrack. To help realize her creative vision for the show, Boyle enlisted a team of collaborators; including a scenic designer, costume artist, robotics engineer, amusement park innovator, and acrylic nail artist. Each work in the exhibition is a testament to slow, skilled, passionate handcraft.

The exhibition’s title, Outside the Palace of Me, references a lyric from “Europe is Lost”, written by UK poet and singer Kae Tempest in 2016. In this protest song, Tempest catalogues society’s ills, including the commodification of the self through reality TV, social media, and the influencer economy.

Shary Boyle, “Centering” (2021), coin-operated pottery wheel, electronics, wood, textiles, foot pedal; collaborative textile design with Grant Heaps

Adopting the structures of theatre, Outside the Palace of Me hopes to function as a metaphor for the construction and presentation of self. Within its confines, the audience is intended to alternate between the role of observer and observed as they engage with an array of uncanny characters and objects — from the miniature to the monumental. Boyle’s small-scale clay sculptures are placed throughout the exhibition, including “The Procession” (2020), an installation of 28 stoneware figures that aims to honor the spirit of collective action. “White Elephant” (2021) is a gigantic, seated figure dressed in a knitted sweater and woolen trousers. The figure’s porcelain head rapidly spins 360 degrees when triggered by a motion detector activated by a passing visitor. “Centering” (2021), a coin-operated pottery wheel sculpture built of wood, textiles, beads, crystals, feathers, human hair, sequins, mirror, and electronics, spins when its foot pedal is pressed.

Wall paintings and works on paper add a supporting cast of complicated narrators to Boyle’s imaginative, idiosyncratic, and unsettling realm. The second floor of the exhibition surveys the artist’s abiding interest in forms of theatre and performance perceived as amateur or antiquated that, through Boyle’s handcraft, seek to become potent forms of image-making.

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Shary Boyle, “The Sculptor” (2019), terra cotta, porcelain, china paint
Shary Boyle, “The Collaboration” (2019), ink, gouache and acrylic on paper
Shary Boyle, “Pupils” (2019), porcelain, stoneware