Gootchie Goo emerged as a fascination with the wild popularity of online videos portraying cuteness. “Adorable kitten” as a search string on Youtube yields countless videos with more than a million views. Further research into the theory of cute led to the discovery of two stimulating essays on the topic: “Cuties in Japan” by Sharon Kinsella, and “The Cute and the Anti-Cute” by Daniel Harris, which appeared in Harpers in July 1993. These authors describe not only the many facets of cute but also the way cuteness functions psychologically and within society. These authors also emphasize the underlying relationship between the cute and the grotesque, concluding that “cutifying” objects within society is ultimately – and perhaps deceptively – de-humanizing because renders its object dumb and strips them of their volition.

The works in this exhibit are all created with these ideas in mind. We attempted to create a visual and experiential environment that reflects the relationship between that which we consider cute and that which is notably not cute. For example, the quintessential cuteness of a newborn is always tempered by the fact that as adults we are, as Daniel Harris points out, unhappily bound as the custodians of their bodily emissions. Or, consider how as adults we tend to be as drawn to the details of a savage grizzly bear attack as a young child is to the innocuous inviting arms of a teddy bear. Perhaps the strongest link between the cute and the anti-cute or grotesque is that both states elicit our pity. Whether it’s the kitten that repeatedly battles its own tail or a fresh piece of road kill, a newborn that can’t yet hold up its own head or an incontinent grandparent, all of these things affect our empathies in a similar and immediate manner.

All of the pieces in this exhibit contain elements of both the cute and the anti-cute. Gootchie goo attempts to reveal what each quality lacks by overtly including each trait in the same work.

By Mackenzie Fitzwater, Sky MacFadyen, Sarah Trowbridge, and Prof. Ben Bloch