Caroline McCarthy

New Poems and Short Stories

5 – 22 May 2021

open for walk-ins: Saturday 8 May, 12 noon – 6pm, Saturday 22 May, 12 noon – 6pm and by appointment

PALFREY is pleased to present New Poems and Short Stories, featuring new prints and a recent film by Caroline McCarthy. A dense, black rectangle repeats itself within white frames hung throughout the gallery. A closer encounter reveals each rectangle to carry a delicate and disquietingly familiar pattern. In fact, these are the patterns found on toilet paper existing in bathrooms up and down the country today, their embossed surfaces inked up and printed directly onto heavyweight paper to produce a unique series of monoprints titled Essentials (2020). 

Embossed toilet paper is a current trend, where coloured toilet paper was in vogue before that; colour has now all but vanished. The embossed designs are highly considered yet inconsequential. Who chooses them? Where do these designs come from? They prompt such questions and evoke a variety of associations including Islamic geometric patterns, industrial materials, and antique quilts. In others, the ghosts of M.C. Escher, Al Held, Patrick Caulfield, and Andy Warhol are at play all within the same modest planes. Quiet poems inscribed on lowly ground, sombre and formal in their delivery. They are as charged and articulate, or as empty and dumb as you like.

On a large screen standing in the gallery space plays Mansize (2017), a feature-length film, showing one hundred “Mansize” tissues being pulled one by one from their box. Each tissue gives rise to the next in a series of unique sculptures, forming a simple narrative, marking time from beginning to end. Shifts in speed and pitch serve to dramatise the birth of each tissue from nothing into something absurdly momentous and epic, its ferocious sound engulfing the space before stillness restored temporarily. Since 2017 the long-standing “Mansize” label has been replaced by “Extra Large”, thus already marking the film as historically dated and suggesting recent shifts in gender politics sent product designers into a flurry to banish any signifiers of male privilege. 

New Poems and Short Stories is a kind of record in time, articulated through the language of product design. It memorialises our strange times where such base materials as toilet paper and tissues have a newly acquired value synonymous with lockdown survival.  



Caroline McCarthy (born in Dublin, lives and works in London) graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, in 1994, and an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College in 1998. Her work brings everyday materials such as packaging, rubbish, furniture, found objects and images into conversation with certain modes of art production and display, in work which explores the nature of representation, consumerism, visual hierarchy and ideas of value and taste.

Her work has been exhibited widely, with numerous solo shows in UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and USA. Notable group shows include Europe Exists, curated by Rosa Martinez and Harald Szeemann, MMCA, Greece (2003); East End Academy, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2004); Views From An Island, Shanghai Art Museum, Shanghai, China (2004); To Be Continued, curated by The British Council, Helsinki Kunsthalle, Finland (2005); (Z)art curated by Jan Hoet, AbtArt, Stuttgart, Germany (2010); The Curator’s Egg, sel. By Jeni Walwin, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, UK (2010); Works on Paper, i8 Gallery, Reykjavik, Iceland (2013); Group Coordination, co-curated by McCarthy for the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2014); Dismaland, curated by Banksy, Somerset, UK (2015); Nature Morte, curated by Michael Petry in association with Thames and Hudson, touring: The Guildhall, Gallery London, UK; Konsthallen-Bohusläns Museum, Uddevalla, Sweden;  Ha Gamle Prestegard, Nærbø, Norway; Four Domes Pavilion, National Museum, Wrocław, Poland, (2015 – 2018). Heads Roll, curated by Paul Morrison, Graves Gallery, Sheffield, UK (2018). Consumed: Still Lives, Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, UK.

Public art projects include Light For Cicely, a commission for King’s College London (2010); From One End to the Other, a citywide project for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (2013); and Flying Boots and Eyes on Fire for South London with the Contemporary Art Society (2019). She is represented by Green on Red Gallery, Dublin, Ireland