Séamus Gallagher
Mother Memory Cellophane

Austin Henderson
McCord Stewart Museum, Montréal
September 8, 2023  – February 4, 2024
Séamus GallagherMother Memory Cellophane, exhibition view, 2023.
Photo: Laura Dumitriu, courtesy of the McCord Stewart Museum
McCord Stewart Museum, Montréal
September 8, 2023  – February 4, 2024
Hauntology suggests how the past can be remediated. As spectres of nostalgia leave their imprints on the present, we can empower ourselves to imagine what no longer exists and what is to come. In Mother Memory Cellophane, Séamus Gallagher adopted the ghostly persona of Miss Chemistry, a living advertisement conceived in 1939 by DuPont to sell its newly patented nylon stockings at the New York World’s Fair. Named after the three most beautiful-sounding words according to a poll taken the following year, the exhibition played in the shadows of gender (mother), time (memory), and artifice (cellophane). Curated by Ji-Yoon Han for MOMENTA Biennale de l’image, Gallagher’s exhibition blended drag aesthetics with queer temporalities, holding a shimmering mirror onto our past, present, and precarious future.

In the gallery-turned-theatre, Miss Chemistry Dress (2023) gleams underneath a spotlight, its glossy pink-and-purple lenticular fabric shifting at every angle. A black pageant-like sash identifies its wearer, and I await her speech. On the wall opposite from the gown is a video of Miss Chemistry. She speaks monotonously, recalling her experiences at the World’s Fair. A simulacrum of Miss Chemistry is projected onto an otherwise faceless mask topped with a platinum wig. Enrobed in nylon stockings and the same plastic gown, person and material collapse into one non-human being. Her supernaturally deceptive appearance is reminiscent of pop-culture characters such as the floating head of The Wizard of Oz and the fortune-telling Madame Leota from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction. Onscreen behind her and in the gallery, red-velvet curtains evoke an opera house or the otherworldly Red Room in the television series Twin Peaks.

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This article also appears in the issue 111 - Tourism

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