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Siren Song

Memphis artist installs mermaids in the Wolf River.


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Anyone downwind of the Wolf River last Friday evening may have felt a peculiar and undeniable calling to the mythical beings in its murky waters.

Folks gathered in the mist along the shoreline of the Wolf on Friday to listen to the siren's song of mermaids for the closing of artist Emily Stout's week-long sculpture installation off the bank of Mud Island. The mermaid statues, made of silicone-coated insulation foam and burlap, were the product of nearly six months of work as a part of Stout's master of fine arts thesis for the Memphis College of Art (MCA).

"I've concentrated on art in the public sphere in the past, and for this project, I wanted to play with the whimsical, the grotesque, and the unexpected," Stout said.

Indeed, Stout's mermaids have taken eerily misshapen and otherworldly forms. Stout said that, in creating their bodies, she was interested in manipulating the human form by exaggerating their twists and folds, a statement on society's tendency to view the human body as unnaturally disfigured.

"They were strangely grotesque," said MCA sophomore Clare Freeman, who attended the closing reception on Friday. "It was startling because, growing up, mermaids were never portrayed that way. [Stout's mermaids] were beautifully crafted and fantastically ugly, and along with the music, there's kind of a treacherous undertone. It leaves you feeling like nothing is quite what it seems."

The mermaids' whispered song, which Stout wrote and recorded, played from speakers placed inside the figures' tails, creating an accompaniment to the strangeness of the sculptures themselves.

Though the mermaids were removed from the Wolf River after the closing reception on Friday, they will be on display at the Jeff Nesin Graduate School at 477 South Main from April 16th through May 14th, with a reception held on April 29th during the South Main Art Trolley Tour.

Because the mermaids have held up remarkably well for a week in the Wolf, Stout said she thinks it would be fun to implant tracking devices in the mermaids and set them adrift in the Mississippi.

"They just lose something when they're out of the water," Stout said. "It's where they were meant to be."

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