26 Feb

ArtBTheatreTitleMore dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism every week, except when I don’t do them every week.

This one gets four out of five stars for its “women are magic” rhetoric. It would be five stars in the “X is magic” category if I didn’t know that next week I’m doing HETERONORMATIVE. I’m sure you can imagine just how magic having a minority sexual or gender identity must be when this week’s artist “giving life herself” is held up as a remarkable occurence. I’m reliably informed that pregnancy and birth can be a painful, difficult and stressful process. I respect and love my own mother. I have great admiration for all the other mothers in the world who do the best they can to raise their children. But for fuck’s sake get over yourself, woman. You weren’t “giving life”. You were carrying out a normal, biological, animal function that countless humans have done already without congratulating themselves about it. Not to mention billions upon billions of other life forms on the planet. The sole control or volition you had in the entire thing was whether to get pregnant in the first place. Despite the commercial onslaught dedicated to pathologising pregnancy and birth for profit, at the most basic level you really only need to keep yourself and the foetus alive for nine months and your body does the rest. There’s nothing mysterious about it. At birth, babies are little more than noisy vegetables who happen to have faces and they’re stupider than the average dog or cat. Just don’t abuse or neglect them and don’t let them die, that’s about all you can do. I’m not saying childrearing is easy, simple or without problems because I know it never is, but the element of choice is the only substantial difference between a human romantically “giving life” and a guinea pig or a kangaroo doing the same thing.

Even that one difference is arguable, since the majority of people just sort of have children fait accompli because they harbour a base urge to mate and reproduce with little rational, objective thought to the consequences or why they’re doing it. Plus there are still billions of women in the world who don’t even get to choose when or if they have babies. Women are great, but being able to drop a sprog has nothing to do with “feminine forces of the earth”. A nasty corollary of this daft new agey mothers-are-magic drivel is the implication that women who don’t or can’t have children are somehow not feminine or participating fully in womanhood, which is bullshit. And rude.

While we’re on the subject, the text (pasted below) uncritically repeats the common factoid that prehistoric societies were utopian and matriarchal until nasty old men violated Gaia with football and lager, or something. To the best of my knowledge this is ideological speculation and there is no scientific research or evidence to support it. To the unbiased, the fact that ancient people made voluptuous female nude figures no more proves the existence of a matriarchal society than the prevalance of women with incredibly large breasts in contemporary pornography proves that Western culture matriarchally celebrates the virtues of women more than those of men. We already know it doesn’t.

Quite apart from this text being a factoid festival, it also blithely lumps all Paleolithic cultures into one. By the references to megadeer and Celtic deities it’s clear they’re talking about northern European culture and history. If you’re an artist and you’re going to play with archaeology, anthropology and so forth, then get your facts right. You can depart from them because that’s your prerogative as an artist instead of a scientist or academic, and you probably should. You still need to know what the facts are, not make up “facts” of your own, and be aware of ethnocentricity. Other parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceana and the Americas all had their own prehistoric cultures. They weren’t deviations or offshoots from a European norm. It’s extremely romantic and ignorant to blather on about a golden age of matriarchy as if it’s an undisputed fact when this interpretation is by definition speculative and ideological i.e. the period was prehistoric, it precedes reliable record keeping, and the overwheleming majority of its cultural content and physical artefacts are lost forever. Like many artists or art writers who tackle science, the level of understanding and language here is science-y, not scientific; woolgathering presented as fact.

International Art English tropes in this episode of Artbollocks Theatre, rated on a scale of one to five stars

Tongue twisters ***, pseudoscientific claptrap ****, bad grammar, typos or misused words *, telling us what we see or think *, spurious appeals to art history *, art world jargon *, pretending artists are more [superlative adjective] than people who are actually [adjective] ****, justifying nothingness or lack of work (0), [gender or sexual identity/motherhood/minority status/nationality of the artist] is magic ****, everyday object, technology or phenomenon presented as if the artist is a virtuoso for being able to use it ***, “between [random noun] and [random noun]” *, artist is unique ****, body horror (0).

Original text is below. The artist is Swiss and the exhibition took place in the autumn of 2013 in Lausanne, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody much saw it. As I mentioned last week, preposterous as they are, art texts don’t really need to make sense. Their main purpose is to provide a paper trail for an otherwise virtually invisible artist and their gallery. I suggest Muriel pops back into her cuckoo clock and takes her bloody antlers and her feminine forces with her.

Galerie d'(A) is following the red thread that Muriel Décaillet used in her ‘Anima’ exhibition, presented in 2010. The complexity of the feminine universe was then at the centre of her work. The artist has continued her reflection on the deeper feminine self by grasping the legends of the deities of the underworld, known as the Chthonians, with reference to the mother goddess, Gaia.


Muriel Décaillet no longer needs to link her works with a red thread, for the link between them is strong and clear. Since giving life herself, the link with the feminine forces of the earth have begun to fascinate her, such as the ‘Chthonian’ whose hair was anchored in the earth and the wood of the antlers of the Eucladoceros (an ancestor of modern day deer) pointed skywards. The entrails of the earth echo an intimate representation of femininity. The Chthonic deities draw the source of their powers in the depths of the earth and are associated with cults of fecundity and fertility. To corroborate this devotion, the artist has created little Venus figures in the style of the Palaeolithic era, a period particularly dominated by matriarchy.

You’ll note that it only required one take to pronounce the name of an obscure extinct mammal, but three takes to say “feminine universe”. It’s a good example of why I advise anyone who intends to share something they’ve written to read it aloud first, or have somebody read it to you. “Feminine universe” looks harmless as text, but in the mouth it’s like driving a sports car over verbal speed bumps. You have to consciously enunciate every syllable, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but stumbling more than once over any piece of text indicates there may be another phrase that could a better job.

It is therefore not just by chance that the artist has created a self-portrait, with herself as Cernunnos, the Celtic god of fertility. The wood that makes up the stag’s antlers continually regenerates. As Muriel Décaillet chooses to put it: ‘stone celebrates the dead and wood, the living’. It is definitely the living that she seeks to celebrate with her presentation of these anthropomorphic and improbable deities. It is through these that she manages to dissect the many facets of the living. With ‘Chimera’, the ‘Sphinx’ and ‘Griffins’, we find ourselves faced with creatures that combine good and evil, sending us back to the depths of our emotional conflicts.

I hate all those artists who make self-portraits by accident, without meaning to. So irresponsible. The bit about chimera, good and evil and whatnot is undoubtedly some half-digested reading of somebody else’s critical text that’s just been vomited back up randomly because it seemed vaguely cogent. Alternatively it’s from one of those books about dreams or tarot cards you can get from a pound shop.


Visual artist born in Geneva in 1976. In 1999, Muriel Décaillet received her diploma in fashion design from La Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design (HEAD)… (blah blah blah, qualifications omitted) From 2001 to 2002, she was given an artist’s studio by the City of Geneva at the Grütli Art Centre. During this time, her artistic research leaned toward the abstraction of garment, reinforced by the absence of the body, ultimately revealing her interest only in the textile material and its possible uses.

The work of this artist is characterised by a great diversity of processes and mediums: installation, photography, video, sound, embroidery, tapestry, dolls, use of thread, wool, textiles, nails, vacuum, plastic, found or misappropriated objects… and all in a fusion relationship with the space they occupy by incorporating its architectural, historic, social or cultural dimension. It is work that is involved in the exploration of the sensitive world that surrounds it. She takes the universe of her day-to-day life, then deforms it, misappropriates it, changing the meaning or symbolic destination to achieve an intimate representation of femininity. Through the use of textiles as an artistic medium, she weaves stories, troubling tales, draws an intimate map of the deeper self, and expresses tensions, oppositions or emotional conflicts within the complexity of femininity.

Oh no, we’ve got another explorer here. If I’m reading this right, she’s a fashion designer who decided she couldn’t be bothered with making clothes because people are boring to her.

“In a fusion relationship with the space they occupy…” Just NO. Nothing can have a relationship with a space it doesn’t occupy, and all things– even nothingness– occupy a space. I’m afraid “the complexity of feminity” doesn’t make me think Muriel’s deep. It just makes me think of Facebook’s notorious relationship option, “It’s complicated.”


  1. Alistair 19/03/2014 at 6:23 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.



    […] Last time, we discovered that having a baby makes a woman magic and gives her special insight into the very fabric of reality. Sorry, I should have written “giving life”, not “having a baby”. This week, a call for presentations and conference papers, but only if they reinforce the organisers’ prejudices that certain very narrowly defined types of gay men and lesbians are also totally magic! […]

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