The Work: Margaret Meehan, Mercy Mercy Me (For Greta), 2020
Location: Conduit Gallery, Dallas — Meehan’s solo exhibition After Laughter, through April 3.
To be human is to be flawed. Yet in our supposed imperfections we are complete beings, faultlessly diverse in our genetics and personal histories. Recognizing our shared humanity, despite or because of our differences, should not be dismissed as new-age blather; it is more than a facile self-help tenet to acknowledge and value our idiosyncrasies of shape and character. Margaret Meehan’s Mercy Mercy Me (For Greta) is a wonderfully effective sculpture that embodies this wisdom. It stands as a totem honoring our quirks of being while accepting the paradoxical similarity and discrepancies of our lives.
Made of terracotta, cashmere, cut paper eyes, fabric and thread, the creature Meehan envisions is part young person, part owl, and part different-limbed human. Washed in a pale glaze and clothed primarily in pink, Meehan highlights an almost clichéd idea of girlhood. Firmly standing on three legs, the owl-like face gazes upward as if pondering something of import. There is a shyness to the pose paired with an unabashed sense of self-confidence. Who has not felt fragile in one’s differences, and yet at other times fully present in one’s unique power? Meehan masterfully captures the nuance of these conflicting dialogues with an expressively crafted stance that feels painfully human.
There is also a sympathetic humor in the birdish character that brings to mind the ceramic funk history of Northern California. One thinks of Viola Frey or Robert Arneson. But there is something singular and fleshed out about Meehan’s creation that reads more as an embodied person. One can intuit the humanity within the wrinkly feathered face. Further personalizing her character, Meehan stitches a heart onto the sweater with a picture of climate activist Greta Thunberg within. The icon of teenage feminism is not only famous for her dogged work addressing the climate crisis, but she is also well-known for being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and selective mutism. Meehan seems to be drawing a connection between Thunberg’s fearless difference and her concerned questioning of the mechanisms of power that feed environmental degradation.
Further, Meehan seems to wonder about an American crisis of character. How do we treat each other? What values do we hold dear? Like Thunberg, who has called her Asperger’s a kind of superpower, Meehan is holding fast to the internal muscle we all share — the all-too regular, but often forgotten social glue that is behaving with compassion and humanity to all.