Perhaps no cultural institution depends more on the naiveté and innocence of children than the circus. The big top is little more than an enclosed container that seals out the conventions of science and the rules of society, creating a menagerie of simulacra. Piercing this shell with any sense of reality eviscerates the illusion. This characteristic makes it very difficult to use as a subject for art.
Any rendition would take place on a continuum between two unappealing poles. The subject matter can be treated with snarky irony, poking fun at the absurdity of the illusion. On the other end, the subject can be treated with empty nostalgia. Either pole has a powerful gravity. Trying to avoid both requires not only a skilled hand, but also a strong critical eye. Danish ceramic artist Lea Nielsen’s surreal depictions of circus stories avoids either trap in the works selected for her recent exhibition Circus is in Town, VÆG Contemporary Art Gallery, Aalborg, Denmark.