Courtney Books


Oil on panel, 2008, 44” X 63”

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A childhood friend of mine used to share folk tales passed down orally through generations of her family. This particular narration, derived from her grandmother’s rendition, pertains to a story of “angels.” These were not angels of the Christian sense, but described to me as entities of phantasm that rested up an individual’s shoulders throughout one’s life. One “angel” rested on the right shoulder and diligently recorded in a tome all the positive details of that individual’s life, the left in turn was charged with recording the negative occurrences. At my friend’s behest, I stripped off any original religious connotations of the image and in turn rendered an archival play on the “good” and “bad” self-conscious. The trope of the “shoulder angel,” associated with Victorian imagery, had transformed by the mid-twentieth century into the more secular version of the self-conscious popularized by cartoons.


 Abi Shapiro


Images are the property of the artist. Any action to reproduce them without the artist’s permission is strictly forbidden.

The Personality Laboratory contains 221 jars and bottles filled with ingredients, instructions and equipment with which to concoct a personality. The installation is designed to make the visitor feel as though they have stumbled upon an experiment in progress, with weighing scales, rubber gloves and handwritten notes line the shelves and a lab coat draped over a chair. Ingredients include discarded ephemera from the natural and man-made world, such as fresh flowers, seed pods, animal bones, rusty nails and shards of glass. Each jar is labelled as a specific personality trait including a dosage and possible side effects. Ingredients include examples such as “misplaced affection”, “visual apathy”, “morose narcissism”. The artist labelled each jar’s trait based on encounters during a three-month period of travel where she documented one individual aspect about each person that was unique to her experience of them, nodding to the impossibility of objectivity in research and data collection. The visitor is invited to consider how they might create their own or an others personality if given the chance and what the implications of this kind of power might be. This reflects current ethical questions over medical interventions in genetics and also what we think, rightly or wrongly, is unique about ourselves, recalling debates over the essentialist and social constructionist theories of the body.