Sean Synnuck is a Welsh artist based in London. He completed his BA at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2020 before studying MA sculpture at the Royal College of Art. He was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2021, and has exhibited work in South London Gallery, First Site Colchester, Unit 1 Gallery, VO Curations, and Bermondsey Project Space.
Increasingly, my practice reflects on the failing ideals of modernity. Stemming from the post-modern turn away from ‘the Truth’, a collapse of faith in authority, and the dissolving purity of universal principle; I am motivated by notions of aspiration, futility, and socio-political impotence.
I create participatory performances as games which pit contestants against punitive and rigged rules. Mechanics such as audience votes, and team-picking draw on populism and soft power. The model of the gameshow creates parameters through which audiences are allowed to engage, with spectators ‘buying-in’ to rules and restrictions in order to take part. The games inevitably misbehave, be that through props which don’t work or win conditions that can’t be met. By the point of revelation, contestants have already given up their autonomy to play, and accepting the rules to participate itself precludes their success. These elements usually unfold through landscapes of bodily imagery and political references, regurgitated through gameshow aesthetics. I aim to draw parallels between socio-political impotence, complicity as a bio-political tool in which false-expectations draw us in to supporting the very conditions which hold us back, and notions of ‘oppositional camaraderie’ - the trap that by rooting for your team to win, you hope for another team to lose. These draw from the collapse of the social contract, post-truth and economic inequality. Playing by the rules is a losing strategy. Compliance doesn’t avert disaster.
Within my sculptural works, I create failed monuments, presenting bodily objects which evoke modernist figurative abstraction, but enfeebled, broken or sad. The anthropomorphised tooth, cracked and slouched on a pillar envisions the body as monument, but where the promise of immortalisation and reverence has begun to disintegrate, and the timelessness of modernity has run out of time.
Self-perception of the body in relation to social power dynamics runs throughout my practice. Works such as ‘The Dolphin and the Bear’ reflect how digital spectatorship and online dating growingly facilitate a marketplace of bodies. Apps such as Grindr codify potential romantic or sexual partners through a grid, with squares of torsos cutting the soft edges of the body into boxes to pick and choose from. These networks encourage unhealthy self-regulation of the body. To be muscular, to be completely hairless, to be ‘masc’ enough or ‘femme’ enough are all pressures to compete, to present, to perform, to constantly monitor your body in relation to its digital manifestation. In these spaces, your body becomes your brand, and the self-ideation of the profile speaks to a reincarnation of the modernist monument.
'Monument to a perfect smile' poses a broken, anthropomorphic tooth. Evoking abstract modernist figures, it draws on a bodily ideation which begins to crumble within the work. Chunks of the tooth are chipped away, revealing a rash-textured blue interior evoking health and self-image anxieties surrounding the pursuit of the body as a monument to itself.
Medium:Jesmonite, Puff Binder
'Not even by the skin of my teeth' presents an extracted tooth slouching over its self with its roots dangling over a plinth's edge. Forlorn, it is surrounded by discarded banana peels. One torn out for a prettier smile, the other stripped away for a tastier meal, both tooth and peel are parts discarded to gain something more desirable.
As my practice grew more concerned with the self-regulation of behaviour and appearance to confirm to unspoken social expectations. I reflected on my childhood desire to get braces, lose weight, or change my hair as mechanisms to become more popular. In retrospect there seems to be a vain futility in the belief that changing my body would change social standing. I had teeth extracted to facilitate braces for a prettier smile, and the image of an anthropomorphic tooth performing sit-ups draws from these self-regulatory steps.
‘Duck Duck’ invites players to a childhood game of Duck Duck Goose. However, the starting performer never shouts goose, and so the game can never truly begin. ‘Duck Duck’ exploits the expectations of rules as an equalising dynamic, and the compliance of players in adhering to them. An assumption of sportsmanship and how things ‘should’ work establishes a sense of fairness through from childhood, with the perceived benevolence or neutrality of these structures being stripped back through the performance.
'The Bite of your life' is a participatory performance in the style of a carnival game, in which the public is invited to bob for apples and oranges using claw-grabbers shaped into teeth. These details offer a fruity teaser of a more elaborate installation.
'The Dolphin and the Bear' draws on experiences of queer dating, particularly through dating apps. The codification of the body through the grid in online spaces establishes a marketplace of potential romantic or sexual partners. The fungibility of profiles, and the ability to filter them by physical attributes pressures individuals to commodify themselves. Knowing the most flattering angle, the right place to crop, or ticking the right tribes are all forms of turning the self into a desirable brand. 'The Dolphin and the Bear' uses expectations of hair and hairlessness in gay dating as a proxy for these issues, expressing bodies cropped into squares, simplified to the criteria of hairy or hairless.
Whether zoom meetings or dating profiles, our self-image has become dominated by its digital manifestations. Online spaces codify us into grids, repackaging us for easier consumption, and rendering the edge of a frame against the body a bizarrely important quality in our self-representation. Throughout lockdowns during the pandemic, the enforced sedentary behaviour had a dissociative effect for me, often feeling like a block of flesh before a screen, which in tern was reformatting bodies into blocks to more efficiently occupy the digital real-estate of the various apps and platforms through which human contact was mediated.
'Timepass' is a short cyclical video, evoking a gif in format, in which flesh toned orbs gently rock in a non-descript urban environment. Suggesting a fragment of a narrative, a purpose without a reason, the work is held in anticipation of an event which never occurs. The work draws on the notion of ambient TV, the experience of media as as a backdrop without holding viewer's attention. This meditative, or absent minded consumption of media leaves me doom-scrolling to the sound of Friends late into the night, unaware of which season I had rolled into until Netflix pauses to ask me if I'm doing ok. The headphones and textiles seating area invite viewers to sit and lose themselves in the vacant content for a time.