Friday, 2 June 2017

Annette Messager - Avec et Sans Raisons

'The human can be fantastic and heroic, and at the same time they can be very dark. They are the victim of themselves. The only revolutions without blood in this century, are the female revolution and the homosexual revolution'. Annette Messager.

Annette Messager - Avec et Sans Raisons, at Marian Goodman Gallery, London.

A stunning, thought-provoking exhibition, that brings together works that display a diversity of forms: small assemblages of objects, acrylic washes, textile works in the form of installations and wallpaper. Messager has always rejected working in one medium alone. In a recent interview she recalled how an older French male artist advised her to do the same thing over and over again. 'I always wanted to mix together photographs, drawings, embroidery, collage, because I think we don't have one identity but a lot of identities', she told her interviewer. 'So I said: non, I will do exactly the opposite'.

Bleeding wombs, fallopian tubes and bare-breasted women, all painted in spreading red watercolour; the daily life of women examined in a forest of dangling objects - this is a show about the lives and experiences of women, even though Messager says about her work that 'in the beginning it was more about the life of a woman, but now it is more about society'.

Messager's chosen title for this exhibition encapsulates her fondness for word play and double entendre. On one level,  Avec et sans Raisons may be understood as 'having reason, or cause, for doing something, or not', but one could go further and take it to mean 'being deprived, or in possession of the faculty of reason'. Messager offers an experience full of contrasts. While some works have a clear underlying rationality, the absurd character of others soon comes to undermine this rationality. The collection as a whole reveals an indomitable freedom of spirit.

Daily, 2016 (30 elements, synthetic leather, cloth dolls, painted fabric, netting)

The daily life of women - Messager's constant theme - is examined in a forest of dangling objects: tweezers, scissors, mobile, earphones, comb - the contents of a handbag magnified on a gigantic scale, stitched in black leather and strung up among an infestation of netted rats. Each object is accompanied by a tiny pair of hands, made out of flaccid stockings. 'It's normal things from the day.... There are a lot of rats and mice everywhere. We are living with rats and mice - especially in town. We try to catch them so they are in nets'.


The crossover with Louise Bourgeois is evident, but Bourgeois was never so literal. Here, there is a sense of the dominance, the tyranny of objects.

Gants-Croix oblique and Gants-triangle, 2017, (string, gloves, coloured pencils)

Black threads form wall-height crosses and triangle, capped on each end with black gloves from which coloured pencils emerge, talon-like, from the end of each finger.

Icone, (Icon), 2013, (metal, wire, net)

3 Escargots-Seins, (3 Breast-Snails), 2017, (foam, black wrap, paint)

Ensemble (Together), 2013, (various objects, black wrap)

There are quite a few sculptures with unusual combinations of objects, resulting in bizarre forms defying any rational reading.

En Trottinette (On my Scooter), 2015, (scooter, black wrap, paint, dummy head, mannequin head, hat)

a different view

Memoire Robots, (Memory Robots), 2015, (metal wire, nets, soft toys, 1 puppet)

Here, Messager asks a metaphysical question that preoccupied 17th and 18th century philosophers: does human nature contain a machine component? This questions holds even greater relevance today with the development of artificial intelligence, where robots have come to replace humans in a number of professional fields, are part of our daily lives and have in some ways become extensions of ourselves, safeguarding our memories and managing our social life.

Il est Interdit d'Interdire, (It's Forbidden to Forbid), 2014

a phrase that became the emblematic slogan for May 1968 in France,

and on the opposite wall:

Les Interdictions, 2014, (68 framed drawings, coloured pencils, 15 soft elements, fabric)

No fishing, no fracking, no music, no smoking, no swimming, no insects in the trees, no sex in the spa - no fun at all. One sign is simply a red circle with nothing in it, as if - as the situationist slogan runs - forbidding itself was now forbidden.

This installation suggests a mutinous relationship with the norm, as well as a critique of our deceptively emancipated times.

'Now everything is [forbidden]. This piece is global because there are a lot of prohibitions'.

Papier Peint Uterus (Uterus Wallpaper), 2017 (laser print on paper)   and
Tuturerus, 2017, (black tutu, fabric, rope, rod, fan)    and
Uterus Doigt d'Honneur, (Uterus Giving the Finger), 2017, (fabric, papier mache, paint, rope)   and
Desir (Desire), 2009, (black net, wire)

A whole room installation, the gallery wallpapered with hundreds of intricately painted uteruses, many anthropomorphised. They're coloured in watery but vibrant colours.

Swinging around the room, dancing above an electric fan, 3D fallopian tubes dressed in black tulle (Tututerus)

The word Desire on one wall.

a fallopian tube that rises to flip the middle finger, on the opposite wall

a closer look at some of these uteruses

'I did a lot of drawings of uteruses. And for me this is important, because there are so many things against abortion now... It's new work, so it's always the favourite. It's a celebration of feminine desire. To be free to choose'.

Celebratory and defiant.

Mon uterus

Pinocchio dans ses Entrailles (Pinocchio in his Own Entrails), 2008, (wooden Pinocchio puppet, fabric, net, ropes)

The desire for freedom and emancipation manifests itself with power and jubilation in the last gallery. It was not possible to photograph the whole room, but here are some of the works that are displayed.

Saint-Agathe, 2016, (fabric, plastic, vegetal foam)

11 Signes de Main, (11 Hand Signs), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Le Spectre de Barbie (The Spectre of Barbie), 2016, (various objects, acrylic paint, string)

Mon Ketchup, (My Ketchup), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Mes Lunes (My Moons), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Mes Ragnagnas (My Red Rags), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Coquelicots (Poppies), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Fuck your Morals, 2016, (acrylic on paper)

In Gay We Trust, 2016, (acrylic on paper)

Referring to the Ukrainian feminist group, Femen, whose slogan, 'our weapons are bare breasts' appears on their bodies during topless protests. Except that here, they are nuns...

La Mer de Seins, (The Sea of Breasts), 2016, (acrylic on paper)

looking closer at these breasts bobbing across the ocean, as if finally freed from their landlocked lives.

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