Artist: Mai-Thu Perret
Place: Barbara Weiss, Berlin
Exhibition Title: Agua Viva
Date: September 14– November 9, 2019
Images courtesy of the artist and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin. Photos by Jens Ziehe.
Galerie Barbara Weiss is delighted to present Agua Viva, an exhibit with new works by Mai-Thu Perret. The exhibit’s title points out Clarice Lispector’s book of the very same name, a difficult mediation on time, language and instantaneity by one of the twentieth century’s most reclusive literary voices. “I desire to posses the atoms of time,” the storyteller states in Lispector’s Agua Viva, “and to catch today, prohibited by its very nature: the present escapes and the instant too.” In her own way, Perret’s Agua Viva attempts to access the modern moment, not by having or holding the instant, nevertheless, but by exploring the non-coincidence of the present with itself, its latencies and metachronisms. This orients her archaeology of modernism, which doesn’t figure here, as so often in modern art, either as the item of a melancholic elegy or the target of ruthless criticism. It is questioned about its disappeared, unredeemed visions. If our present is the revenge of a modernity extremely gone astray, then Perret’s exhibit excavates other beginnings potentially still latent in this really history: tales never ever told.
Both a limited, fragmentary archaeology and an archaeology of the marginal and fragmentary, the exhibition traces counter-narratives through the historicity of particular objects forming a constellation. Playing on different utopian codings of the sea in her plan of the gallery space, Perret positions the works like dispersed remnants on the ocean flooring. With She tosses herself into the universe, she admires the Polish Constructivist Katarzyna Kobro, one of the signal references for her reworking of the modernist legacy throughout the last years. The architectural design with dealing with stairs is based upon Lina Bo Bardi’s work, as is the white model of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. An Italian born architect and designer who emigrated to Brazil, Bardi, like Kobro and Lispector, represents a counter-hegemonic narrative within modernism: female, peripheral, resistant to elitist formalism. The presentation of the charged language of geometric abstractionism in such delicate materializations and in a distinctly feminist frame renegotiates the politics to which it appears to be keyed. Universalism may be the specifying quality of these visual forms, Perret recommends, but one that is not special of area, embodiment and particular differences.
Ceramic turtle sculptures– distantly reminiscent of the identification of subsea and subconscious in Surrealism– interact with the historic citations, letting temporalities and recommendations clash. In a comparable vein, 2 carpet paintings with Rorschach test patterns mention the Modernist expedition of the unconscious and contingency on the most decorative of mediums. Taken together, Perret’s constellation is unforeseen modernist, science-fiction, desperately utopian, urgently modern.
A fractal quality is likewise tangible in the disfigured mannequin. Such figures appeared in Perret’s previous works, in undamaged form, under the title “Les guérillères,” obtained from Monique Wittig’s eponymous feminist novel about the effort by a group of females to take control over society. With its statue-like strength, the work is expressive of the determinedness required for advocacy in times of political reaction. Yet in its disfigured state and insistent physicality, it bears witness to the vulnerability of the human body in the face of disaster. Instead of representing the commodification of the body, the mannequin consequently turns into an emblem for the exigencies facing feminist art and politics in the present.
The exhibit can be viewed as a fragmentary continuation of The Crystal Frontier. Begun in 1999, this imaginary narratives files the actions of a group of feminist militants that banished themselves from patriarchal society to found an utopian community. Over the last 20 years, it has underwritten Perret’s work across a range of media along with her engagement with various literary and theoretical sources.