Erin Calla Watson’s photography and video channel a long tradition in the fields of visual art, literature, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, among others, where rooms are activated with a psycho-sexual charge, including the dark interiors of Dutch Golden Age paintings of licentious taverns; Virginia Woolf’s notion of a room being essential for a woman’s autonomy; and Walter Benjamin’s characterization of “the phantasmagoria of the interior,” the individual’s universe of illusion, their protection from the outside world. Benjamin’s description of the interior and its obverse, the harsh exterior world of work and conformity, has a direct line to the recent writings of Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai on how feelings are embedded in our personal aesthetics, and what the political consequences of this process are. Calla Watson highlights and disrupts this weaponizing of affect by appropriating private spaces shared on online manosphere platforms and pushing them through prisms of visual modification, including inserting popular cultural icons that are replete with sentiment, angst, and trauma: Bambi, for instance, is a central signifier of the destruction of childhood innocence when his mother is “murdered” by a hunter; Britney Spears represents a sensual ingenue trapped in a legal straitjacket instituted by her malevolent father; and the sinister Frank character from “Donnie Darko” embodies the disturbed mind of the film’s protagonist.
Calla Watson’s source images are often well-designed, if formulaic, contemporary rooms, perhaps ironically posted, although she has stated: “It’s equally as likely that the original image was posted sincerely…I chose the rooms for their ambiguity.” The space’s messiness and nebulosity, as well as the transformations and cultural interventions performed upon it by the artist, suggest we are witnessing a dreamscape where the repressed is expressed, or a screen where memories, reliable or unreliable, float across the surface. Not unlike Mike Kelley’s “Educational Complex,” his monochrome miniatures of every school he ever attended, Calla Watson’s works can be understood as architectural models, imbued with emotive psychic resonances that act as fissures in a social armature of convention and control.
Erin Calla Watson (Los Angeles, CA, 1993) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Calla Watson received a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles. Exhibitions include “Erin Calla Watson,” Foxy Production, New York; In Lieu, Los Angeles, CA (both solo)(forthcoming 2023); “a somewhat thin line,” In Lieu, Los Angeles, CA; “KYLE,” Larder, Los Angeles (both 2022); and “The Conspiracy of Art: Part II,” Chateau Shatto, Los Angeles (2019).