Featured in
Issue 243

Elaine Cameron-Weir’s Religion of Subcultural Worship

Her pseudo-sacred sculptures at Lisson Gallery create a bricolage of Christo-medieval relics, high fashion and doomsday aesthetics

BY Macaella Gray in Exhibition Reviews | 03 APR 24

The lingering impact of Elaine Cameron-Weir’s narrative mise-en-scènes stems from their many fetishized allusions: the sleek sculptures in ‘A WAY OF LIFE’, her inaugural show at Lisson Gallery, evoke BDSM chambers, apocalyptic raves, holy armouries and designer showrooms. Dark leather and bondage chains serve the artist’s role-play, informing doomsday fantasyscapes that sardonically comment on mass culture while indulgently reenacting its rituals. This bricolage of medieval Christian relics and their cultural derivatives comprises an ideal stage for Cameron-Weir’s religion of subcultural worship.

elaine-cameron-weir-pupil-of-couture-4horsemen-hairshirt-SS 2024-apocalypse-collection-lisson-gallery-installation
Elaine Cameron-Weir, pupil of couture / 4horsemen hairshirt (SS 2024 apocalypse collection), 2023, leather trench coats, stainless steel, dyed calf leather, studs, 3.9 × 5.9 × 1.3 m. Courtesy: © Elaine Cameron-Weir and Lisson Gallery, New York

Effectively subdividing the main gallery space, two large installations serve as minimalist theatres for maximalist suggestion. The first includes pupil of couture / 4horsemen hairshirt (SS 2024 apocalypse collection) (2023), a four-metre-long, M-shaped sculpture of four leather trench coats suspended by a simple pulley system. Drawing a clear parallel to the high-fashion spectacles of Balenciaga’s disaster couture or Celine’s revival of the punk-chic ‘indie sleaze’ aesthetic of the early 2000s, the jackets hang by metallic chains, forming a plethora of references, from the Crucifixion to medieval gallows to the appropriation of 1970s leather subcultures by haute couture. Mainstream and countercultural touchpoints converge in a single article of clothing, elucidating their shared dependency on consumerism to foster community.

elaine-cameron-weir-western-procession-of-oldest-wounds-hit-parade-wrecked-high altar-of-buying-tears-lisson-gallery-installation
Elaine Cameron-Weir, western procession of oldest wounds (hit parade) wrecked high altar of buying tears, 2024, aluminium horseshoes, conveyor belt, horseshoe nails, stainless steel, barrels, lead, steel grit, liquid candles, 3.9 × 13.2 × 4.3 m. Courtesy: © Elaine Cameron-Weir and Lisson Gallery, New York

In western procession of oldest wounds (hit parade) wrecked high altar of buying tears (2024), the artist stages a makeshift pulpit from a repurposed conveyor belt. Inlaid across its sinuous surface is a procession of horseshoes, evoking the western expansion of American Manifest Destiny and the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Lead-draped barrels filled with sand and flickering candles anchor the sculpture, which are diligently relit by gallery assistants as if safeguarding an eternal flame. Where do we direct our prayers as the world collapses? Cameron-Weir’s syncretism reveals a broader process of deification: this quasi-historical reliquary fosters a sense of belief and belonging akin to religion.

Elaine Cameron-Weir, MY LIFE MY WAY, 2024, glass display case, soot, varnish, aluminium, steel, neon tubing, electrical components, 97 × 122 × 55 cm. Courtesy: © Elaine Cameron-Weir and Lisson Gallery, New York

The impression is of a post-Anthropocene boutique, which the artist makes explicit in the second gallery by incorporating two commercial display cases and shop-style mirrors. Presented as if for sale are trench coats and bone sculptures made from cast aluminium. In the glass cases, Cameron-Weir arranges mock skeletal remains wrapped with blue neon tubing and electrical wire. One sculpture reads, ‘My Life’, while its twin relays, ‘My Way’. Echoing libertarian catchphrases such as ‘Don’t Tread on Me’, these words hold a contradiction: the yearning for community coupled with the desire for self-differentiation and determination. It’s fitting that the artist derived the exhibition’s title from a catalogue about extreme tattooing, a subculture known for its pseudo-religious practices – her series of barbed-wire prints, ‘marginalia’ (2024), enacts parallels between body modification and flagellation, durational performance and the Stations of the Cross.

Elaine Cameron-Weir, marginalia (4)(detail), 2024, white bronze, enamel, hardware Five wall mounted metal plaques, 14 × 17 × 2 cm (each). Courtesy: © Elaine Cameron-Weir and Lisson Gallery, New York

‘A WAY OF LIFE’ suggests that the modern diffusion of traditional belief systems into popular culture does not indicate the end of faith-based practices in navigating uncertainty. Rather, Cameron-Weir proposes that the proliferation of countercultures in the post-internet age forms microreligions that synthesize collective anxieties about an increasingly uncertain future. Consider, for example, incels who glorify revisionist medieval histories to validate their violence toward and deep-seated pessimism of societal norms that impede upon their ideals of masculinity: these historical revisions aren’t genuine reflections of the past. Herein lies the rub: maybe we are indeed becoming more reliant on faith, as Cameron-Weir suggests, and are prone superficially to embrace complex ideologies through trends that lack a profound understanding or critical awareness of underlying belief systems. The artist neither praises nor condemns this tendency; her practice both scrutinizes and depends on it. Simply put: it’s but a way of life.

Elaine Cameron-Weir’s ‘A WAY OF LIFE’ is on view at Lisson Gallery, New York, until 13 April

Main image: Elaine Cameron-Weir, 'A WAY OF LIFE', 2024, installation view. Courtesy: © Elaine Cameron-Weir and Lisson Gallery, New York

Macaella Gray is an arts worker and writer based between New York City and Austin, Texas. Their collaborative and single-authored writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Glasstire, Number Inc. and more.