GOOFY AND FUN AND COOL Merritt's 'Spirit of the Youth (L'Trimm).'
Fandom is the spark for Sam Merritt’s ebullient show “What Fills Our Time” at Machines With Magnets (400 Main St, Pawtucket, through September 30). She seems to be mulling how we find ourselves, define ourselves, and dream up ourselves based on inspirations from celebrities.
Spirit of the Youth (L’Trimm) is a buoyant 11-foot-wide patchwork appliqué tapestry depicting Miami hip-hop one-hit-wonders L’Trimm, who you may recall won brief acclaim in 1988 for their rap “Cars That Go Boom.” The textile might be a descendent of those celebrity posters that brighten adolescent bedroom walls, but reimagined as an elaborately handcrafted mosaic of squares and rectangles and curves of hot-glued pinks, reds, browns, and blacks.
“I wanted to make women who looked a little bit like me because as a kid I never saw that,” Merritt tells me. “I admire that they were young girls, kind of naïve, and just went for it. . . They were just goofy and fun and cool. You don’t see too much of that, but it’s a huge part of being a girl and growing up and having fun and not knowing any better. All the things you can do when you don’t know any better is amazing.”
You wouldn’t necessarily recognize L’Trimm — or in a nearby tapestry, Ginger Spice (aka Geri Halliwell) of the ’90s Brit girl group Spice Girls, smiling and throwing her head back in an Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe-ish pose. The portraits don’t necessarily make it apparent that they’re singers; the titles clue you in. The emphasis is on fun, on nostalgia for teenybopper stars of the artist’s youth, on the power of not knowing any better.
ARTIST AT WORK Merritt's 'World Falls Away (Wendy Carlos).'
Knowing better seems to come into other works here, like Merritt’s textile portrait World Falls Away (Wendy Carlos), which shows the Pawtucket native and transgender composer in profile at an organ. Carlos came to fame with her pioneering 1968 synthesizer album Switched-On Bach and subsequently worked on hauntingly technological scores for Stanley Kubrick’s films A Clockwork Orange and The Shining as well as Disney’s Tron. It’s the music of alienation from the normals.
Nearby is Self-Portrait Mask with Romanticized Hair, an unnerving ribbed fabric head and neck with stitched-on pink lips and a mussed black wig. You might detect connections to the freaky masks of the Providence rock scene. It’s part pretty, part goofy, part flesh mask worn by the killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. “It’s a mask of my face that I can wear, which I think is something people always do even if it’s not always so overt,” Merritt says.
Waiting For a Wave, a rough plaster sculpture of one mermaid resting her head in the lap of another, speaks of craving solace. “They’re just meant to be very close,” Merritt says. “They could be friends or they could be family. They could be stranded. Or they could be a couple.”