Dans la tiédeur de la nuit, is the latest exhibition presented at the Parisian gallery Marcelle Alix, and features the work of artists Tirdad Hashemi, Mira Schor and Michael Dean. At first glance exhibiting dissimilar creators, the show delves on the representation of vulnerable bodies, both in the public and the private sphere.
Michael Dean,’s work Laf Cry (Working Title) (2020) offers a peculiar sight; the canvas is covered with sand, footprints and shoe soles inhabit it, a bed sheet hangs from the corners of the frame and thus extends the pictorial surface. As our eyes wander with such a view, bodies are conspicuous by their absence; the imprints left in the canvas serve as testimony of human interaction, of a fleeting intimate dialogue. Dean’s work is an intersection between language and touch, the latter is a communicating tool in itself, and the more we look at it, the more it unfurls. What is left in the canvas are unspoken words, movements conveying hidden messages that are up to us to decipher, stories that need our presence to be told.
In this sense, Dean’s work can be compared to archeological artifacts needing to be decoded and examined thoroughly, they are telling books about human relations highlighting the value of exchange and collective action. Bodies are not shown but evoked, leaving us with the task to imagine them and fill the missing gaps with our imagination. The artist does not prescribe to a normative shape, nor does he instruct us on how to read his work, the objective is more to show alternative representations differing from “social codes”.
In this respect, there are echoes between Tirdad Hashemi’s drawings and Dean’s sculptures, as both use a visual language to signify intimate scenes. Works such as Lesbianism in public eye (2019), Vicious life of friday nights (2019) or Stubborn love (2019) are glimpses of the private life of the artist and her inner circle. Whether they are imagined or not is not to debate, what seems of interest is the polyphony of forms and colours she uses. In her native country –Iran– as well as in other parts of the world, queer love is frowned upon and even condemned, in these countries is not enough to hide and seclude, violence is even exerted within the confines of intimacy.
What Hashemi’s portraits are beings manifesting love and pleasure. Sexual acts are represented without modesty, her characters celebrate sexuality in all its diversity. In contrast with the smoothness of the first drawings, other works like Champagne Showers (2014) and Can I come back home mama? (2014), convey another feeling, much less joyful. The colour red is everywhere to find, in Champagne showers, there’s even a profusion of it leading us to think that the characters are recoiling and bleeding to death. Can I come back mama? depicts a seemingly crying woman with a knife in her head; as she stares at us, we women empathise all too well with her and a feminist cause that continues to be undermined.
Other forms of violence are also visible in Mira Schor’s work, specially in her piece Patriotism – On the blood of women (1989) where male genitalia painted in red enters through a crevice; on top of the phallus, an American flag with a swastika waves and bleeds, blood drips and lands directly into an ear. This unsettling scene is a vivid metaphor of how brutal the language of the patriarchy can be, and as it forces its way in our idiosyncratics, it leaves atrocious wounds on people non adhering to the normative canon. This biopower inflicted upon us produces a set of rules that needs to be abided, and all of those challenging it are overthrown and ridiculed. Bearing this in mind, the painting appears less intimidating and incendiary.
But characters in works like ‘Power’ figures #12: are you? [3 balls] (2015) or ‘Power’ Figure #16, Flesh (2015) defy normativity by showing life’s futility. These power figures, despite their apparent frailty, function as a memento mori and stress that power is as vulnerable and ephemeral as our bodies. So instead of fear, we meet with empowerment and hope, for nothing is written in stone, the power of the ruling class can be overturned.
Furthermore, according to Schor, her work is a junction between “visuality, sexuality and manual impulse”, and her painting Mirror in Flesh (1994)–in which a semicolon takes the form of a vulva– is representative of this. Language and form are intrinsically connected in her artistic practice, the semicolon can be perceived as a way to pause and reflect on how our bodies are subjugated by power, even in the private arena. Over the last year, lockdowns have offered us an exceptional opportunity to digest and ponder on themes like gender equality, social and climate justice, first nation rights and so on. So the hiatus, from anxious dismay transforms into a fruitful pause helping us to steer the wheel towards fairer horizons.
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