"Topsy Turvy is a video performance that explores race, marriage, parenthood and gender through a tableau vivant inspired by a Victorian-era toy for children. In this video shot at the New York Historical Society, the artists have a!ached their own bodies to a custom-built turning device, thus mimicking the structure of a “twinning doll” with a life-size, contemporary version of this racially charged toy. As the film unfolds, the artists turn round and round, and Tarry’s layered skirts and McCallum’s tailored tuxedo flow over and around one another. These playthings were designed to educate children through opposites. The doll’s unique structure—two separate heads connected by a single torso—typically features two characters of different races who are permanently conjoined. While one of the artists is upright, and hence visible, the other artist is inverted and remains obscured from view by the costume of the other. This duality references binary constructions of race and gender as imagined across cultures and over time. The precarious balance achieved when one of the artists is revealed and the other disappears mirrors the instability of dominance even when submission seems apparent. The video’s subtle audio blends together the actual sounds produced by this unique, sculptural structure with a recording of dialogue between Topsy and Miss Eva, two characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin."
"Topsy Turvy." In Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry, edited by Jennie Hirsh, 58. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Institute College of Art, 2010.
To view or download the entire exhibition catalogue from Bearing Witness: Work by Bradley McCallum & Jacqueline Tarry with descriptions of each work as well as a critical essay, please visit the Featured page.