Nostalgia’s a heavy Technicolor burden that Maisie Cousins is carrying. Not long ago, the young English photographer left London for the seaside with her little kid. There, she found the endless bright tat of childhood and holidays; mounds of jelly and melting ice cream, plastic toys, fuzzy felt stickers and bugs high on spilt cordial.
That tat is all over her latest series of photos, a sticky sweet world of vibrant rot and sugar highs. She catches it all in semi-obscured ultra-close crops. Little mouths licking cream, ants crawling over sweets, toy pigs on a velour sheet. Cousins has such a defined aesthetic, but she’s ditched the horny youthful sensuality of her earlier stuff for nostalgic weirdness, and it works.
The nostalgia’s at its most intense in the series of AI works though. Cousins lost all of the photos and videos of her with her granddad when she left art school, so decided to use image prompts to recreate her lost childhood memories. She fed countless ideas into the machine, and a small handful of the results have been spat out here as little framed snapshots. These are visions of a youth filled with impossible seaside mascots – a pink onion, bleary-eyed celery, a huge blue lobster – populating impossible piers and fairs. It’s the seaside holidays of Martin Parr but broken, hazy, half-forgotten and totally misremembered. Two of the mascots have been made real, the lobster and the celery; semi-terrifying, semi-lovable freaks that you almost feel like you can remember from your own childhood. Karaoke renditions of Helen Shapiro’s ‘Walking Back to Happiness’, which her granddad would play her, float tunelessly through the room. It’s unsettling, uncomfortable, and seriously good.
It’s great, clever use of AI, and it will make you long for a youth you never had, at a seaside town that never existed.