In the laboratory atmosphere of the white walled gallery, the quirky toys and drawings of French artist Annette Messager have come to life. They animate the tense atmosphere of the day and transform the uneasy layers of life into jovial, intriguing and artistic perspectives. Messager touches different subjects through her work, some of them largely tackled by other artists such as freedom, desire, feminism, and vanity. What differentiates the artist from the others is the fresh content of her art.
She expresses feelings and sensations it seems, as they cross her mind, and displays them in our face as they come, as they are, as she envisions them, the same way the title of her exhibition reads: “Avec et sans raisons”, meaning with and without any reason. Around 50 artworks are embedded in the gallery. Each of them are part of a group forming a visually interesting world of their own. As I circulate around the gallery I find myself shrunk in age, but with the same understanding skills as an adult. It appears that everything is coded for a child to understand, yet the themes target a more mature audience.
The use of stuffed toys, netting, dolls’ body parts, animals, and explicit drawings translate a clear message. This is a playground where we are allowed to rebel and shock. There is also something for everyone, the viewer doesn’t have to be an active feminist member, or a defender of all the causes supported by Messager. The playful tone attracts curiosity, inner introspection and discussions, without being forced to feel any anger and violence which could be emerging from the artist’s underlying themes, rebellious by their nature.
Messager uses the same colour code throughout her pieces. She predominantly uses black, with touches of red to contrast her speech. The poignant colours act like punctuation, and give a dynamic rhythm to the exhibition. While staring at the pieces I am also tempted to take two different routes, in an attempt to come closer and deeper to her work. Either the route of darkness or the one of humour, as if both weren’t compatible, although here they are blended in the same artworks. She refers to menstruation as ketchup, has fabricated a flying “Tututerus” in one of the rooms, and casted 3 nipples as the body of 3 snails. She allows us to view the woman’s body in an amusing way, but also think of our position towards feminism, whichever our gender. The drawing “I am my own prophet”, the desolated lovers twirling their bodies around each other, and the soft toys hanging as if they were dead on the “Daily ” installation’s nets, invite for a darker representation of concepts such as desire and memory.
Sub-themes also come to mind, such as greed and vanity. Whilst in order to contemplate our condition amid social behaviours and morals, there is a need to turn towards ourselves, the reminder offered here by Messager is to set a limit and try not to delve too far into self-admiration and avarice. Are these inevitable to self-reflection? It seems like they could be, and by exposing them to the world, the artist points out the narcissism present in recent protestations. The examinations of these serious subjects of revolt are done in a theatrical manner, reminiscent of the scene in the Nutcracker ballet during which the big ugly mice attack the handsome prince. Messager points out human beings’ tendency to compartmentalize their actions and takes on the role of a parent by putting a label on it: good or bad. Is it that simple in real life?
Avec et Sans Raison:s Annette Messager at Marian Goodman (19 April – 27 May 2017)