The Pathos of Mandy: Walter Scott
by Emily Pelstring
The Pathos of Mandy (2020) functions like an expanded autobiography of Walter Scott’s previous quasi-autobiographical work about an aspiring artist named Wendy. The show coalesces around the new eponymous alter-ego, Mandy, and his struggles with a Wendy-like creation. Excessive mediation, overlapping narrative frameworks, and a preoccupation with in-between states pervade The Pathos of Mandy. Characters traverse media and formats, performing themselves in ways that are simultaneously genuine and feigned, drawn and sculptural, documentary and fictional. Ultimately, Scott’s intentional confusion is a witty reflection on the mutability of identity and authorship, and a critique of rigid categorization.
When I visited the exhibition space, it was strewn with glossy, black-on-pink prints and animated neon works, all rendered in a napkin-sketch style. Wires dangled from the neon tubing, and prints hung dramatically askew. One print depicts an artist (recognizably Wendy) feverishly drawing self-portraits that come to life, poke her in the face and proclaim, “Art is supposed to be fun!” Another print dissects the motion of a boot taking a single step, separating it into three phases: “ACT 1,” “ACT II,” and “ACT III.” See Yourself in the Work (2019) is a two-step animated neon piece installed directly on top of that boot print. In the first step of the neon animation, a figure appears to hold the print from above, smiling. In the second step, the neon figure appears to fall into the print, screaming and pushing against the edges of its rectangular frame.
Spatial jokes abound in Scott’s universe. A print depicting a wine bottle pouring into a puddle was draped over the floor line, making it three-dimensional. A simple black print of a T-shirt lay face up on the floor, as if someone had forgotten to clean up. As Scott put it, some of these works are “2D in drag as 3D.” Not only do these pieces perform across their dimensional categories, but they also transcend their status as inanimate objects. Fragments of beings, in the form of disembodied, chunky boots, white-gloved hands and freaked-out faces made the whole space seem slightly animated, as if it were puppeteered. Scott’s fluency in the visual shorthand of the cartoon caricature enhanced this illusion. His ability to render a distinct mood with just one mark—that perfectly placed eyebrow—made objects come to life. This aspect of the show filled me with the kind of joy I experienced as a child, tuning into Pee-wee’s Playhouse to join the strange and friendly company of furniture that talked and had eyes.
A number of works poked holes in romantic conceptions of the creative process, focusing instead on the mundane reality. A series of mixed-media drawings called Six Acts of Writing (2019), framed on the wall, illustrated stages of the creative process—including napping and drinking. In the drawing The First Act of Writing (2019), a snake-like form that is a pencil at one end and an arm at the other rips a drawing in half, while Wendy awkwardly kneels on it, reading an apparently distressing book. The words “BUT,” “THEN” and “LATER” punctuate bizarre scenarios across these drawings. Throughout the show, the comic strip as form and language was repeatedly deconstructed and rearranged as contemporary art.
In another room, the show’s titular video piece, The Pathos of Mandy (2019), offered a story about the pitfalls of commercial success in creative fields. Mandy loses creative control over a character he created after his LA agent shops her around the world of showbiz. Having shaped his career around the character, he is understandably upset. He soaks in a gross bathtub and reads Barthes, feeling pathetic. The narrative is neatly resolved when Mandy finds a random new focus for his practice: QUILTS. This glimpse of the creative life, offered through animation layered on top of photos of Scott’s actual daily life, directly addresses the “art people” most likely to engage with the work. It is a confession of the unglamorous and fraught aspects of artistic identity and practice, like self-pity and narcissism.
Scott has made a mess of the identity, status and output of the artist. Along with the graphic litter, embarrassing pathos was spilled everywhere. I understood this disarray and the accompanying, collapsed categorical divisions—to be a critique of the tendency to apply rigid rules that categorize, essentialize and assign value to everything and everyone. As one of the “art people” implicated by the work, I was compelled to reflect on my own motivations and those of the people around me. Doesn’t our proclivity for neat, clear structures and hierarchical distinctions reek of competition, territorialism and pride? Shouldn’t we all be ashamed? Sure, but we can also look in the mirror and laugh. Scott’s world of beings, with their flaws on the table, tells us there is room for compassion. Even if we are sometimes vain and insecure like Mandy and Wendy, we are not alone, and we are more than one thing. We are redeemed by the acknowledgement that being a person is hilarious and messy.