Sian Costello: Rapture of the Sisters. 23 June – 11 July 2021

Sian Costello, Rapture of the Sisters Leucippide (II) (detail), pastel and oil on canvas, 2021

Sian Costello: Rapture of the Sisters

Address: Detroit Stockholm, Roslagsgatan 21, 113 55 Stockholm
Vernissage: Wednesday 23 June, 17–21. Performance 19.00
Artist talk: Sunday 27 June, 16.00 (In English)

Opening hours:
Thursday 24 June, 13–17
Friday 25 June CLOSED
Weekends 26–27 June, 3–4 July and 10–11 July, 13–17

Please book an individual visit outside of the opening hours at: 
Email: / Tel.: 0728 49 29 89 (Alice)
A part of the exhibition can be seen from outside the venue at all times. 
There is also a satellite exhibition by the artist in Flat Octopus’ Exhibition Case at Grindsgatan 27, 118 57 Stockholm.  Opening hours: 5–9 July, 10–17. By appointment outside of these dates.

Curated by Alice Máselníková


Rapture of the Sisters

Greek mythology is anything but predictable. The understanding of justice, order, destiny or life’s purpose in the philosophy of Ancient Greece differs substantially to that of our contemporary western sense of existence. In comparison to Christianity, which in order to encourage people through their miserable lives of hardship envisioned the concept of eternal salvation with something to look forward to beyond all the suffering, there was never any promise of respite in Ancient Greece. For the majority there was foreseen a destiny of an absurd and meaningless life followed by a similarly meaningless death, all throughout toyed with by the often petty and vindictive Greek gods. In these mythological stories the logic of things is ever so slightly twisted, the actions and consequences oddly disturbing, the violence and drama too much to be contained. Even though we cannot put our finger on what exactly makes us feel uneasy, there is something off in those tales which unsettles our desire for balance, a balance that is calm and composed, not the never-ending struggle of forces characteristic of Greek mythology. A world like this – hard to grasp but fascinating – depicted in painting, is simultaneously beautiful and uncanny.

The main body of work in this exhibition is Costello’s series of large paintings ‘The Rapture of the Sisters Leuicippide’ which source inspiration from Peter Paul Rubens’ piece ‘The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus’ (1618). This baroque painting narrates the story of Phoebe and Hilaeira, sisters Leucippides, the two daughters of King Leucippus, who are kidnapped and raped by the twin brothers, mortal Castor and immortal Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri. The scene shown by Rubens and reiterated in Costello’s paintings depicts the peak moment of the abduction, where the two men seize the women in a flurry of frenzy, violence, rapture and admiration. What is not shown is the ending of the tale, where when Castor is killed in battle following the abduction, Zeus decides to reward the brothers, and deifies both of them to become the star constellation Gemini. One does not have to ask twice whether the unfortunate sisters receive any similar accolade. Rapture the sisters, bless the sons – one confounding example of the ways of justice and destiny in Greek mythology.

Costello questions this set order of things by reinterpreting the story of Rubens’ classical piece in a series of life-sized oil and pastel paintings. She takes the mythological narrative where women have a passive and resigned role, contemplates it and transforms it into a different, more deliberate setting. The depiction is deconstructed and recompiled in a way where the daughters of Leucippus have their own minds; they are sisters, actors in the painting with an instance of their own. The hypocrisy of the original painting’s smooth beauty that overshadows its underlying dark motifs is shaken, and instead bodies are intertwined, violated and struggling, substituting the absurdity of the absolute stillness surrounding the violent scene and taking over the whole space of the canvas.

The passion of the original piece is maintained in the five reiterations of the story, but it is a different charge we get; straightforward, rougher and exposed; less narrative and more expressive. There is an immediate energy seeping through Costello’s paintings, though in the carefully planned compositions we also get the depth of contemplation which was put behind the works. These two opposing approaches are also demonstrated in the special technique used – merging oil paint with pastel creates an intriguing juxtaposition of surfaces and structures which is not done for the effect but to complete our perception of the bodies. The skin, flesh, hair and fabric are each enhanced by the finish of the mediums, ranging from chalky tender mattness of the pastel to the classical shine of the oil paint.

Aside from the focus on figurative painting, a key part of Costello’s practice is that of the performative. The artist does not use life models but instead chooses to position herself in the modelling role; not in the act of self-portraiture but rather as a contemplation of the relation between the artist and the model, the viewer and the performer. She stages performative drawing sessions, setting up a large camera obscura that serves both as a tool for concealment and revelation, simultaneously partially hiding the model and revealing the artist, drawing us into the shadow play behind the curtains. Her small pastel paintings ‘Pauses in Toilettes’ are reminiscent of these sessions – we do not see a direct similarity between the artist and the depiction on the canvas, but we feel there is a hidden connection behind the eluding faces and bodies; a moment that we might have just missed in passing.

Sian Costello is one of the very rising stars of contemporary Irish painting. It is quite rare for me these days to feel enamoured of a work of contemporary painting, or be utterly impressed by a contemporary artist, but I get both of those from working with Costello. The passion for her profession is palpable both in her works and in her whole expression; the sheer depth of interest in the medium of painting and dedication to researching a range of subjects feel inseparable from her persona.

Sian Costello (b. 1998, Roscommon, Ireland) is a multidisciplinary artist working out of a painters’ studio in Wickham Street, Limerick City. Graduating in 2020 with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art painting from Limerick School of Art and Design, throughout her studies, Costello has exhibited widely in group shows in Limerick, Galway and Roscommon. In the summer of 2019 she completed a residency with 126 Studios Galway and it was here that she again exhibited upon graduation with her most recent work ‘Dress Rehearsal for the Apparition of Saint Veronica’ (2020). Her graduate work has been profiled in the Irish Arts Review and is the recipient of the Collector General’s Main Purchase Prize.

Detroit Stockholm is an artist-run collective that provides a free platform and a gallery for artists from various disciplines. From nomadic performance art festivals, music and art happenings and various multimedia exhibitions. It provides a free platform and project space for international guest artists as well as its own members. Detroit Stockholm also houses 25 studio spaces for a variety of artists.