Most of the work that Permindar is currently producing in the studio features faceless black teddies. As seen in this previous post, teddies have featured in Permindar’s previous work in various other forms, camouflaged against a backdrop of similar fabric. Teddies appeal to Permindar as they are “half animal, half human” and allow her to critically consider human nature. Permindar spoke to me and Professor Karen Pine (UH Department of Psychology), about the meaning of the teddies in her current work.
Many of Permindar’s previous teddies were aggressive in appearance, with claws and horns, such as those produced for We are All Animals. “A lot of my work is about protection and defence,” Permindar explains, “the claws were about defence.” The new teddies are clawless, emphasising that these are harmless children’s toys. Without claws, the teddies are less obviously aggressive, and yet remain quite threatening as a result of their black colour. They hide in places where they are not supposed to be; they are “there but not there…watching from high up and hiding in cracks”. The sinister connotations of hiding and watching counteracts the friendly and familiar connotations of the teddy bear form, resulting in meaning that is purposefully ambiguous.
Other than variation in size, all of the teddies are identical. They have no distinguishing marks or facial features, and, remarks Karen Pine, “no apparent personality” and no apparent gender. Permindar stresses that she is more interested in groups than individual identity. “I don’t tend to think in terms of individuals”, she tells us. Devoid of individuality the teddies are more threatening, perhaps like a gang or swarm. Permindar contrasts the group identity of the teddies with the individuality of the viewer. The teddies are more threatening “because they are many and you are one”; gallery viewers will be outnumbered by teddies, whose identities and motives are unknown.
When Permindar speaks about her teddies, she credits them with agency. Many of her developments respond to the notion that the teddies are somehow “active”. In early experiments which still hang in the studio, teddies are strung from chains by their heads. The latest development to this installation is a change in the way that the teddy is attached to the chain, so that it now looks like it is using its paws to climb upwards. It is important to Permindar that the teddies appear active, not passive, potentially able to interact with their surroundings.
In other planned installations, teddies are piled on top of one another. Though she initially planned to pile teddies in a doorway, Permindar has now decided to leave the frame “open at the top”, so as to eliminate the perception that they are trapped. She felt it important to offer them an escape route, so that the arrangement is “harmless [and] quite playful”, as if they are stacked “quite happily” inside a toy cupboard. Similarly, teddies are “happily confined” inside a copper cage with no top, as if transported in a play pen, not trapped behind bars. To convey the impression of the teddies’ ease with their surrounding, Permindar finds it important that they are not squashed into the space, but rather, comfortably and happily confined, and able to escape. If the teddies were confined or trapped, she tells us, “it would close the work down, because it would have only one meaning”. As with the identity of the teddies, ambiguity is one of Permindar’s primary aims.