I was intrigued to hear about Heidi Aishman’s show, “You Can’t Win That!” at Gallery Stokes. As a child, I had an obsession with stuffed animals (what little girl didn’t?). I was always on the hunt for new additions to the collection. In a nutshell, the essence of Aishman’s show is just that: her obsession with the claw machine, the prizes contained inside, and the endless hunt for stuffed animals.
The claw machine, often found in arcades, supermarkets, or movie theatres, has a notorious reputation for its difficulty and (especially for fiscally concerned parents) for being a waste of money. Aishman states that her current work is about the desire for the unobtainable — after being told that she too would never win the claw machine. While entertaining and optimistic, the show also relies heavily on ideas originated in the Dada movement of the early 20th century, such as chance and the readymade.
The artwork placement follows a certain logic through the exhibition. The hallway leading to the main gallery space displays five sheets of graph paper, each posing a question at the top, followed by “calculations” in attempt to find a solution. The questions cover topics from the logistics of stuffed animal stacking to even the curvature of the claw hand. The amount of thought behind Aishman’s study of the claw machine is compelling, considering that most people over age of 13 walk by them without so much as a glance.
Even after all this preparation, the element of chance remains: you could be aiming for the elephant, but still end up with the pig right beside it. The Dadaists embraced chance as a way to challenge artistic conventions and relinquish control. Aishman takes a machine many assumed to be rigged and governed by chance, and tries to control it.
Around the corner, a stuffed animal trophy wall, Mounted Heads, references the mounted taxidermy some proudly display in their homes. Aishman’s version, however, contains Disney characters, patriotic elephants, fire breathing dragons, a Peep, and a Boston Red Sox bear, just to name a few. While the placement works well enough, the silhouettes on the wall (depicting a herd of deer in the background) tend to distract and disrupt the flow between the mounted heads.
A similar work, Bear Skin Rug, rests on the gallery floor. As the title implies, this “rug” represents a bear skin, albeit a more bear-friendly version. Aishman’s prized, claw machine possessions combine an exploration of niche pop culture with another tradition of the Dada movement: the readymade. “You Can’t Win That!” is an entertaining show, taking a unique obsession with a claw machine and displaying it as art.
Heidi Aishman: You Can’t Win That! at Gallery Stokes runs until April 18. On Saturday, April 11, Heidi Aishman will give an artist talk at 2PM.