jeudi 19 novembre 2009

Land of Crystal

Christoph Keller, Presentation of Mai-Thu Perret, Land of Cystal, JRP Ringier (2008)

Modernity has been referred to as a permanent revolution. The pursuit of an ideal social order has generated numerous blueprints, some calling for violent change. Central any enlightened discussion as to improving the human condition is uplifting the status of women. Not surprisingly, the belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes was literally born in the spirit or revolution. In feminism proper has a date of origin then it's 1792 with the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's treatise « The Vindication of the Rights of Women », which was written in her native Britain whee debate about the French Revolution, then in its third year, was vigorous to say the least.

Over the course of the next century, Wollstonecraft's text became one of many, laying the foundation for what, by the Twentieth Century, became a movement conscious of itself as an historical continuum, one working across successive generations to develop a platform of concerns ranging from securing fundamental legislative equality to reflections on the very nature of being. Beginning with Wollstonecraft's text, feminism has become a comprehensive language of critique and social change, one coextensive with the historical master narrative of modernity.

According to the wok of Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret, feminism, as a distinct tradition of self-empowerment, is a master narrative in its own right. For the past few years, Perret has been writing The Crystal Frontier, a fictional account of a feminist commune founded by five women in the Southwestern United States. In ni way, shape or form a finished document, The Crystal Frontier consists of diary entries by its female protagonists who reflect on the lives they left behind, the reasons they left, and their personal hopes and hardships in pioneering a utopian community. Perret, who studied english literature in Cambridge, is more interested in character development than the requisite elements of setting. No More City, an extract from The Crystal Frontier, reveals the escapist impulse motivating the women. Whereas one journal entry may be reminiscence of Willa Cather, another may come across as the delightfully convoluted, ideologicalrant of a distrungled graduate student frustrated by the inability to translate , say, Monique Wittig into a meaningful « praxis. »

The Crystal Frontier is a master narrative in the truest sense in that it is a grand story generating other stories, which in the case of Perret take the form of sculpture. Whether they are large banners, folksy hand-crafted ceramics, a bunny coop, papier mâché mannequins, a slightly oversized Constructivist tea set, or altered modernist furniture, nearly all of Perret's work is derived from The Crystal Frontier. Perret's heroines follow a routine of work, leisure, and self improvement through therapeutic exercise in self-expression. For money, they sell crafts. Needless to say, the creation of a fictitious word, one replete with handmade crafts, gives Perret a great deal of latitude in the artistic vocabularies she would choose to exploit. Whether these are Russian Constructivism or Judy Chicago, Sonia Delaunay or Jorge Pardo, Katy Schimert or Andrea Zittel, Perret engages the visual arts as a ready-made language whose elements, re-fashioned in her hand, are deployed toward ends stranger than the sum of either their literary or visual sources. [...]

Perret's work is first and foremost anachronistic. Although The Crystal Frontier is set in the present, nothing could be more frozen in time than the idea of establishing a feminist commune. If anything The Crystal Frontier is a trope for exhuming not just a recent past but any and all points along the historical continuum of feminism. In Perret's alternate universe, however, feminism does not serve to complement utopian thought. It is rather the other way around. Utopian thought is accountable to feminism. Functioning as a master narrative coextensive with modernity, feminism become a binding agent for utopian thought be it ground in fact or fantasy. Perret can reference utopian aspirations as expressed by the Soviet avant-garde or as expressed in Grandville's proto-surreal illustrations parodying a 19th century world in which a burgeoning materialism would seem to make anything possible. Tellingly, Perret's most monumental work to date is an enormous, round, aluminium clad teapot (12 feet in diameter). Replete with a door, viewers are invited to enter the teapot in which Perret has hung paintings purported to those of The Crystal Frontier female protagonists.

Ultimately The Crystal Frontier is a world in which historical contradictions have been annulled so that a project such as socialism, which sought to dissolve gender distinction, can rub shoulders with the reification of women as exemplified in the work of Busby Berkeley, or Vanessa Beecroft for the matter. But Perret's work is not frozen in time; it is time frozen. The dialectic that allowed modernity to be define as a perpetual revolution is being brought to a halt. In this respect, a fixation with the 1960s ans 1970s as exhibited in the work of Perret and numerous of her contemporaries, is symptomatic of the extent to which the rhetoric of sociopolitical alternatives belongs to a past whose disavowal amounts to losing the language of change. The net effect is that imminent critique (critique reserved for illuminating alternatives in the present) is displaced onto a past where artists look for the glimmer of a future that doubles as something other than our current moment. If Perret's work is any indication, then we have indeed entered the rabbit hole of history without ever having been given the option of which pill to swallow, the blue or the red. In which case Alice could just a seasily be in chains as in Wonderland.

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