Real Live Action

Real Live Action: Shary Boyle’s Outside the Palace of Me (Art Exhibition)


Bridget Chu

Entering the exhibition, I find myself walking onto a stage. As the spotlights become visible, we are presented with ten ceramic sculptures, all alluding to the portrayal of identity. This theatre motif is coherent throughout the exhibition — on stage, one sculpture (“Peacock Spider”) depicts a peacock spider standing on top of a hand, conveying the performative side of self-portrayal, and is symbolic of the social phenomenon in which people present themselves as a more colourful and appealing version of their true selves.

Boyle’s use of vibrant colours plays into the motifs of theatre and “play pretend”, extending the theme of presenting life as more colourful than it actually is. As I step down the stage and move on to Part IV “Puppet Show at the Wax Museum,” “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is playing as part of the exhibition soundtrack — “send in the clowns / don’t bother they’re here” sets the tone for the next artworks, featuring various feminine archetypes. “Drag Show,” a painting of ink gouache and acrylic on paper, depicts the reflection of a person putting on a phantasmagorical mask, and as we look into this mirror, it is as if we are the subject in the painting — drawing attention to the mask we put on every day for society. This reflection motif appears again in the sculpture “The Painter,” where Boyle reflects its face-less subject in an actual mirror, and a face is drawn on the mirror in black marker, at an angle such that the face is reflected onto the face-less subject. This reminds us of the impermanence of our identities, or at least the way in which we present it to the outside world — we aren’t really the face we put on for the world to see. 

Many of Boyle’s artworks also feature head-less subjects that are in the process of crafting heads — two being “The Sculptor” and “Cephalophoric Saint”. In “The Sculptor,” we see a vaguely shaped subject sculpting an incredibly detailed head, one that is way larger than the size of its own body. This contrast between vagueness and detail shows the magnitude to which we go to portray our lives as better than it actually is. In “Cephalophoric Saint,” the subject has a changeable head, implying that we constantly change the way we present ourselves as we see fit in different contexts. Through the use of these vibrant colours, reflections and face-less subjects, Outside the Palace of Me challenges our perception of identity and draws attention to its impermanence. The exhibition was open at the Vancouver Art Gallery from March 4th to June 4th 2023