Walking into Kim Dingle's installation feels like stumbling upon the scene of a violent crime during a pause in the lawlessness that looks as if it's about to erupt again - only with more ferocity than it left off. Four little girl mannequins (identical except that two are black and two are white), lock their beady eyes on yours as you pause in the gallery entrance, more than a little taken aback as you try to take in the anarchic tableau unfolding before you. Dingle's hand painted porcelain figures, dolled-up in frilly white dresses, clench their little fists, lean forward defiantly and hold their lips tightly together with a stubborn, fuck-you toughness well beyond their tender two-and-a-half years. They share the same name: Priss.
Dingle's demonic progeny appear to have just trashed their well-appointed nursery. They've managed to be incredibly destructive in a refined, ladylike fashion: without dirtying their lacy dresses, scuffing their polished shoes or messing up their steel-wool hair. Scattered all over the checkerboard floor are dozens of stuffed animals that have been variously disfigured, disembowelled and dismembered by two live, no longer present pit bulls (the artist describes Priss as 'Shirley Temple as a psycho pit bull'). On the walls hang several painted targets whose luscious surfaces are pierced by heavy duty, foot-long darts. Many more of these toys-cum-weapons stick out of the wallpaper, whose pastel lamb-and-heart pattern has been obliterated by vigorous oil-stick scrawls and relentless crayon scribbles, reaching from the floor to about three feet up. This is the highest point the mannequins could reach if they stood on tiptoe and swung their arms overhead.
To make this furious, around-the-room mural, Dingle commissioned two-and-a-half year-old Annabelle Larsen Crowley to do whatever she wanted with an unlimited supply of materials she'd never be permitted to get her hands on at school. The tot's untutored smears are one part Art Brut and one part Cy Twombly. If anything can make Twombly look like a consummate draftsman, little Annabelle's ecstatic, ham-fisted gestures do. While her puerile graffiti lacks the delicacy, elegance and facility of the more famous painter's works on canvas, her spontaneous gestures more than make up for these fussy shortcomings with their raw, unselfconscious energy and intuitive sense of colour - Annabelle favours a sumptuous palette of deep ochres, rich golds and gooey browns. The juicy, varnish-saturated globs still look moist and fresh, as if they belonged to a phase when distinctions are not made between food and faeces - both substances are simply good materials for making dark, emphatic marks.
Like a 3-D freeze-frame photograph, Dingle's delightfully menacing installation seems to stop time at a particularly loaded instant: well after the violence has begun but still long before irreparable damage has been done. Standing on the floor or, as if treated as caged pets, in cribs lined with old newspapers, the Prisses embody the amoral impulses and destructive desires of children caught in the throes of the 'terrible-twos'. This is the frenzied phase when endearing infants become evil, uncontrollable tykes: wildly excited about their new powers and appetites, but totally clueless about the possible consequences of their behaviour. Free of guilt, though hardly innocent, Dingle's kids embrace mayhem and mischief because it's fun. Their haunting, wise-beyond-their-years demeanours suggest that the violence done to the walls and stuffed animals in their nursery is not nearly as traumatic as the repression that all children must live through if they're to become morally responsible adults. Dingle's installation delights and compels because, unlike many other works dealing with the loss of childhood, hers doesn't whine, point fingers or bemoan the fact that the pleasures of childhood are no longer available to grown-ups. Instead, Priss Room offers a tour de force demonstration that the irrepressible energy of little girls - at their most savage and horrible - is still alive and kicking in Dingle's vital and intelligently immature art.