Week 6 – What an emotion! What emotion? *
Mis à jour : 12 mai 2020
This week’s theme: arts and politics
Echoing the theme of the links between arts and politics, I could have talked to you about artists like Barbara Kruger, who takes up the aesthetics of billboards to denounce, with often feminist slogans, the excesses of power. One of my favourite works by this artist is Your Body is a Battleground, words superimposed on a woman's face, or I Shop Therefore I Am, playing on the famous maxim of the philosopher Descartes: I think therefore I am. I could have told you about Jenny Holzer, who took part in the group exhibition on Leonard Cohen organized by the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, whose approach is recognizable by the slogans she uses to infiltrate streetlights in big cities, or by the LED strips that spread political messages through the architecture of museums. Closer to home, an artist like Clément de Gaulejac also takes advantage of the evocative power of words to create political posters whose illustrations have a mocking and/or denunciatory side. He himself identifies himself as a committed artist, and his actions demonstrate this. In 2012, during the student strike, he put his talent at the service of students, while in 2018, he produced posters for the Québec solidaire provincial campaign.
Instead, I wanted to continue sharing with you the fruit of my recent readings, inspired by the current programming of the Musée d'art de Joliette. In the text IN DIALOGUE, still printed on our walls inside the museum, I introduce the theme of the season:
well as those in the exhibition Afterimages , all deal with women’s bodies
and experiences, among other subjects. Through humour and word play,
they liberate women’s speech, question the distinction between reason and
emotion, and awaken us to the predispositions that have conditioned our gaze
and permeated our language, but without using the aesthetics of activism.
While this exhibition program was not planned in response to current events,
we would be amiss not to point out the topicality of its theme, which, like
today’s headlines, draws attention to the continued marginalization, abuse, and
unfair treatment of women.»
It is the role of emotions and their political value that I wanted to talk to you about, based on works that, unlike the artists I mentioned at the outset, do not borrow from the aesthetics of engaged art. In browsing through the current exhibitions, I have chosen to highlight how emotions are at the heart of the works, and to share with you the thinking that led to the creation of this programming season, which, I must admit, was fuelled by anger and indignation.
"... is that emotions, since they are motions, movements, and commotions, are also transformations of those who are moved. Transformation means going from one state to another: we are therefore well reinforced in our idea that emotion cannot be defined as a state of pure and simple passivity. It is even through emotions that we can eventually transform our world, provided of course that they transform themselves into thoughts and actions. »
Treasures Are Hopes Made Solid to Catch the Light and Also the Dust
The photos and videos presented in Lum and Desranleau’s exhibition attempt to translate in textual, gestural, and audible form bodily states that are associated with the experience of confinement. Their protagonists contend with a form of captivity, in a space or in a body, and express strategies they’ve developed to remain in contact with the world despite feeling all too often physically kept away from it. These works particularly resonate with the current context, where confinement is the experience shared by the vast majority of people around the world.
These recent works are meditations that have been fed by the writing of Sylvia
Plath and Clarice Lispector, among others. Known for fighting off feelings of
suffocation, these women chose to respond to the extinguishing effect of their
environments through their books. This subject evokes the well-known feminist slogan that private is political, so that politics is not only about the public sphere but also about activities that take place in the private, domestic sphere.
Chloë Lum & Yannick Desranleau, As Usual, I’m Exhausted, from the Stills From Non-Existent Performances series, 2019
Of Works and Hours
Words are also at the centre of the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to the work of Quebec painter Monique Régimbald-Zeiber. They are used in ways other than by committed artists such as Kruger, Holzer and de Gaulejac, but in an equally political manner. The paintings created by Monique Régimbald-Zeiber in the 1990s put forward terms linked to women’s bodies and genitals, or words used to address women. These terms carry references to eating and to animals and reduce women to the status of objects of consumption or possession. These paintings suggest that the slippages, from word to image and from image to word, infect our imagination with pejorative connotations. In response, other works created in the 2000s incorporate the writing of women who embody the urgency of speaking out. The words of Marguerite Bourgeoys, Annie Ernaux, Jane Austen, Naomi Fontaine, Nicole Brossard, Martine Delvaux or Patty O’Green on incest, feminicide, abortion, silence, abandonment, but also their resilience and actions, remind us of the importance, even today, of taking an uncompromising stand against the scandalous fate that women still endure.
This uncompromising position, fuelled by an acute sense of indignation, is at the root of current programming. It was therefore a strong emotion that aroused my desire to reflect on the place given to women and to denounce, obliquely, the violence to which their bodies are still subjected.
Monique Régimbald-Zeiber, Ta gueule, around 1994, Huître, around 1995
The body, at the centre of the group exhibition Afterimages, remains a site of advocacy and resistance for women. A web of references and connotations surrounds it: mysterious, sacred, dirty, tempting, provocative. They cling, persist, and renew themselves through time. The body is desirable, idealized to the point of mythology. Its image is therefore distanced from reality, neutralizing its many facets. The body desires; it is perceived as menacing, driven by a wild hunger that stems from nature and the animal world. It is even capable of murder—at least according to the discourse of the anti-choice movement. It is difficult to rid ourselves of the intersectional ideological legacies that pervade us in pernicious ways, to the point of influencing how we live, behave, and think.
An underlying violence inhabits the exhibition, suggesting dismembered bodies under examination. We are presented with compositions of fingers, arms, elbows that resemble breasts, teeth, monstrous legs, horsehair reminiscent of a scalp and a skull eaten by mushrooms. Nonetheless, we are still seduced by the glossy surfaces of porcelain, the evidence of a body wrestling with materials in Brie Ruais’ work, the anonymized faces and the unkempt hair of Elizabeth Zvonar’s photographs. Other anthropomorphic forms – Brie Ruais’ Affirmation Pots, with their shapes evocative of poultry – speak to us: “I Decide What Goes Inside,” “My Body, My Choice’’, ‘’MeToo’’, ‘’Nasty Womyn’’.
Brie Ruais, Affirmation Pots series, 2018
I have chosen to place the words of George Didi-Huberman at the forefront of this commentary on art and politics, in order to reflect on the power of emotions. Didi Huberman discusses the emotion/reason dichotomy that has long been at the root of women's discredit, which has been implied that they are guided only by their emotions. Emotions that they were subjected to, which thus made them passive beings, puppets. Elsewhere in this lecture dedicated to a youthful audience, Didi-Huberman explains why emotions have long been perceived negatively :
"Emotion is opposed on the one hand to reason (which, from Plato to Kant, philosophers generally consider to be the best) and, on the other hand, to action (i.e. the way, voluntary and free, of walking as adults in life). Emotion would thus be a dead end: dead end of language (when, moved, I remain silent, unable to find my words); dead end of thought (when, moved, I lose all my means); dead end of action (when, moved, I remain with my arms dangling, unable to move, as if an invisible snake were immobilizing me). »
Yet, as the quotation above demonstrates, emotion can also become a driving force for action. It is a movement (e-motion) that can lead to transformations. Women's political struggle is full of examples that prove this. The artistic approach of many women also sends this signal.
Judy Chicago, a feminist artist whom I mentioned in another entry of this blog, is proof of this: "Anger can be extremely productive and healthy: anger against one's limits, against oppression, against the facts of the human condition. This anger can lead to creative growth. "These words, quoted in a recent catalogue published on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to his work, values anger as something productive, which can nourish creativity. Chicago refuses to swallow her emotion, to camouflage it as a taint, to make it a sign of weakness. If it is true that emotions can be a source of political manipulation, so can rational arguments. Just as they can be vectors for positive change. The works of the artists in the Gallery's current programming evoke strong emotions that can fuel thought and action. Hopefully, you will be able to discover them in the next few weeks.
* title borrowed from George Didi-Huberman's lecture, published in 2013 by Éditions Bayard.
Maude Bernier Chabot, Brie Ruais, Elizabeth Zvonar, exhibition view Afterimages, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2020.
This article was written by Anne-Marie St-Jean Aubre, Curator of Contemporary Art, Musée d'art de Joliette Follow the indications to participate and get your art on this platform.