The Feminist Critique: Mary Kelly’s Project-Based Works at Art Basel

The second-wave feminist and conceptual artist Mary Kelly has made a career out of combining the personal with the political, examining issues of gender, identity, and collective memory in large-scale narratives. Her works, which frequently include text, collage, and everyday objects, are on view at Art Basel, where they will be the focus of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery’s booth

Among them is Documentation VI: Prewriting Alphabet, Exergue and Diary, for which the artist carved several slates depicting the relationship between mother and child as the latter begins to master written language. Each tablet is inscribed with the child’s handwriting, the mother’s notes on his writing, and a third, analytical voice expressing general anxiety about the child’s learning environment. Another series, “Corpus,” consists of thirty of Kelly’s preparatory drawings and collages—shown here for the first time in nearly 30 years—for the first part of her four-part installation, Interim, which was displayed in full at the New Museum in 1990. These compositions explore the designations “Menacé,” “Appel,” “Supplication,” “Érotisme,” and “Extase,” which were attributed to so-called hysterical women by the psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot in the 19th century.

For Dicere, a new work being shown for the first time, Kelly has mined inspiration from a satellite transmission of a drone target, and the account of two children who witnessed a drone strike that killed their grandmother in North Waziristan. Using a process involving the compressed lint that becomes cast onto the screen of a dryer, Kelly translates the text from these stories onto dryer screens, methodically carries out hundreds of washes, and ultimately creates physical, symbolic testaments. The end result is several large panels of intaglio text representing the transmission and the transcript—explorations in loss and memory.

Haniya Rae

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