In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1986 essay The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,
she argues against a masculinist monumentalizing impulse of history,
and offers up a different proposition for the way culture can exist and
can be formed. This ‘carrier bag theory’ challenges that the first tool
was in fact a vessel for gathering, and not an instrument of conquest,
and that a male-centric society has conditioned us to negate the
former in favor of a broader ‘heroic’ narrative.
Le Guin takes this further, proposing the heroic narrative within
literature (to vanquish, to conquer) is an obsolete form, and suggests
that a more complex structure—based on the vessel—should develop
instead. This, she posits, would allow for multiple points of view, and
engender a more inclusive panoply of voices within the form.
No Patience for Monuments, brings together the work of a dozen
artists whose work and practices embrace multiple facets of Le
Guin’s subversive push against the overarching historical narrative.
A group of voices that call to question the history of artistic
representation, the process of writing and monumentalizing this
history, and offering a presage of a new way forward.
Genesis Belanger’s work is characterized by a surrogacy of the
body, as objects, finely sculpted and tinted in fondant hues that take
on human features. Everyday objects are made uncomfortably familiar
as they begin to resemble us. For this exhibition, Belanger has crafted
an anthropomorphic vase, at once an echo of Le Guin’s metaphoric
vessel and critique on the objectification of women.
A gouache by Julie Curtiss, shows hair, a feature sexualized and
often fetishized in women, that overtakes and becomes the body
itself. In Cleave (Vishnu), ropes of hair coil and entwine to form a
constricting corset. Menacingly manicured fingernails frame the
subject’s bust and belly—a ‘carrier bag’ in its own manner.
Nick Doyle’s work—part-painting, part-sculpture—also deals with the
gendered nature of objects. A bouquet of flowers, crafted in denim
and decorated with metal wire and nails, juxtaposes the delicateness
of its floral subject with the rough-cowboy-Americana evocations of
its materials. If materials and objects have gendered associations,
Doyle demonstrates how the two can all too often be ill-at-ease with
each other. The peep holes he has inconspicuously included
throughout also seems a timely comment on South Korea’s recent
legislative measures to crack down on the surge in peeping tom
devices installed in female restricted spaces.
Much of the work in the show is engaged with questions of
representation, often aiming to subvert the male gaze. Celia
Hempton’s paintings, for example, focus on male genitalia as a retort
to the fixation on female sexual organs on the part of male painters
throughout history. In the manner of Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the
World (1866), Hempton’s work is unapologetically genital-driven and
she confronts, as a female painter, the taboo of painting a penis. In a
reversal of the Courbet painting’s famous frontality, Hempton often
paints her subjects from behind—a vulnerable position and a rare one
for male subjects where art history is concerned.
Ridley Howard performs a similar reversal of gender roles. Howard’s
paintings of cunnilingus upend the conventions of erotic imagery and
its tendency to over-dramatize pleasure. They are painted in a direct,
unaffected style that clashes with the explicit nature of their subject.
Most powerfully of all, though, Howard reassigns the conventional
roles of giver and receiver, male and female-identified sexual
behaviors and expectations.
Jessie Makinson’s paintings do away with the tensions between the
sexes altogether. Instead, her paintings are often proposals for a
feminist utopia devoid of men, and her references range from art
history to science fiction. Makinson claims Le Guin’s “speculative
fiction,” in which the protagonists explore worlds alien to them, as a
major influence. Le Guin was able to reconcile her interest in largely
male-written science fiction with her feminist ideals and Makinson’s
own work is bound up with similar concerns.
Seoul-born GaHee Park’s paintings figure prominently in the show.
Rendered in a “naive” style that recalls artists like Henri Rousseau,
Park’s subject matter is far from it. Depicting romantic scenes where
the idyll has turned sour, the sexual acts that seem to be transpiring in
her paintings are at odds with their quaint settings. The viewer finds
himself an uncomfortable voyeur of Park’s ambiguous and troubling
scenes. Each painting is a container for simultaneous narratives.
Sarah Peters’ bronze heads appear as though they could be ancient
artifacts as well as objects from the future. Quoting antiquity with a
subversive edge, Peters’ sculptures correct the metaphoric
beheading of the female form throughout art history. By exploring the
site of a woman’s voice and agency, her head, and excluding her
body altogether, she performs, in a sense, a restitution of female
The paintings of Naudline Pierre also look to art history and tackle
female representation through the lens of religious imagery. Her
contribution to the exhibition, two works on paper, feature a
proliferation of haloed female figures and winged celestial creatures.
In her reimaginations of canonical devotional and historical paintings,
women assume the poses of the suffering male figures that once
dominated those images.
Known for paintings that embed sly social and political commentary
in their art historical pastiches and pop-art send ups, Emily Mae
Smith’s work often employs humor to deliver pointed critiques of
patriarchal society. In No Patience for Monuments II—a work where
the show’s title is derived— a pile of whipped cream is antimonumental in subject matter and scale, while a disembodied
tongue defaces this small, soft monolith.
Jansson Stegner’s paintings of athletic subjects bring a
monumentalizing approach to bear on the female form. Stegner’s
work contests received notions about the female physique in the
tradition of portraiture. Harmonizing beauty and muscularity, and
sometimes verging on the grotesque, Stegner challenges a narrow
contemporary criteria for female beauty.
Ruby Sky Stiler introduces men in archetypical scenes associated
with femininity and maternity. Mining the historical motif of the
Madonna and Child, her portraits of men reclining with their children
highlight the dearth of tender images of fatherhood. By pointing out
such an omission, she releases men and women from the traditional
roles perpetuated by such imagery and the subsequent belief
systems that produced them.
Organised by Valentine Blondel