Simon Lee Gallery is delighted to announce Mai-Thu Perret’s second solo exhibition and her first at the London
gallery. Mai–Thu Perret creates interdisciplinary works that combine the languages of feminism, politics,
theatre, nature, religion and art history.
The exhibition Zone expands on Perret’s own fictional narrative The Crystal Frontier, which the artist has been
writing since 1999, that follows a group of women who form a commune New Ponderosa Year Zero in the
remote desert of South Western New Mexico, in an attempt to escape capitalism and patriarchal convention.
Perret’s new body of work draws on French avant-garde writer and feminist theorist Monique Wittig’s novel Les
Guérillères (first published in 1969) that imagines a society run by a tribe of warrior lesbian women.
Wittig’s layered, interconnected style of writing and Dada collage techniques are referenced in the scale and
range of works in this exhibition, reflecting Perret’s interest in formal strategies of disruption, combining
incongruous elements and materials to explore different histories, political situations and how objects function
within and influence the social systems they inhabit. The exhibition’s title Zone can simultaneously refer to a
meditative, mindful space and a war zone.
Visitors to the gallery are greeted by an armed, faceless, seated female figure Les guérillères XII, who
seemingly acts as an idle guard over a series of new works, including a ceramic fountain, a wicker sculpture,
text work and ceramic wall based reliefs (all 2016).
Extending a body of work Perret developed for her solo exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, the
figurative sculpture is a direct reference to Wittig’s text and inspired by soldiers in the YPJ, a female-only
Kurdish militia currently fighting in the Syrian civil war. With a body collaged from papier-mâché, found clothes
and feet of bronze, this subject resembles a store mannequin or puppet, implying animation or movement.
Materially reflecting the complexities of individual and collective identity, Les guérillères XII also evokes the
uncanny formal ruptures employed by Dadaist artists in the aftermath of World War I. Perret’s figure in repose
occupies the time and space between action and inaction; whilst guns pose a key threat to societies of our time,
here this cast resin gun is candy-like, fetishised, temporarily immobilised yet still harbouring potential. With a
pastel pink circle emblazoned across her face, Perret’s solitary soldier queers our strategies of perception and
the legibility of the objects in the gallery.
Natural Sophie, an abstract form made from wicker, further animates the exhibition. Referencing Sophie
Taeuber-Arp’s Dada Heads, this supersized portrait is featureless, mute and locked in silent alterity. As an artist
leading the development of modern art in Europe, Taeuber-Arp embodies a new vision of the roles of art and
women. Perret was drawn to the Heads’ doll-like shapes, identity free and object-like, with their lack of mouths
summoning a “silent scream in the vacuum of explosive Europe"1. Although wicker is a feminized, ancient craft,
the scale of the sculpture and its rigorous shape suggests a vectorized, 3D rendering materialized and further
complicates our reading and gendering of objects and technology.
Ceramic wall reliefs run the visual gamut, from blood-red and indigo geological, organic clusters bearing the
imprint of hands and gestures to smooth sumptuous lime green and maroon glistening egg forms, shown in
contrast alongside square hard-edge grid works. Once again employing a material associated with craft and
immediacy, Perret is interested in how the soft and malleable clay body is transformed by fire into a hard,
reflective and impermeable surface. The geometric works are hieroglyphic, intimating a cryptic language of
elemental forms. Throughout the exhibition abstraction is presented not as a negation of figuration and the
bodily, but as something that happens to the body - a process, a language - through which the body must pass.
A text-based work, Sister, further develops these ideas. Inspired by the writings of Russian Futurist
poet Velimir Khlebnikov, Perret experiments with the roots, structure and forms of language to
invent neologisms and finds significance in the shapes and sounds of individual letters. The ritual incantations
of the words further reference the automatic and surrealist writings of Apollinaire, in particular his poem Zone,
for which the exhibition borrows its title.
These works form a path to an alter-like fountain Zone at the heart of the exhibition: a truncated cube covered
in hand-made white ceramic tiles, the top coated in a coarse crust-like surface. Suggesting spas, hammam
architecture, morgue tables or minimalist sculpture, this work speaks of bodies being washed or cared for and
recalls the way objects and architecture shape our bodies and selves. Prop-like, the fountain serves to activate
the gallery as a site for a performance or ritualistic action. The meditative lull of running water echoes through
the gallery, reminding us that we are, like nature, ever changing and impermanent.
Their peregrinations are cyclical and circular. Whatever the itinerary, whatever point of departure they choose,
they end up at the same place. The paths are parallel, equidistant, narrower and narrower as they approach the
centre of the figure. If they follow the path from the interior to the exterior they must traverse the widest of the
circles before finding the cross-passage that leads them to the centre. The system is closed. No radius starting
from the centre allows of any expansion or of breaking through. At the same time it is without limit, the
juxtaposition of the increasingly widening circles configures every possible revolution. It is virtually that infinite
sphere whose centre is everywhere, circumference nowhere. Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères
NOTES TO EDITORS
Mai-Thu Perret was born in Geneva, Switzerland and studied at Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK and the Whitney Independent Study Program, New York, NY. In 2011, she was awarded both the Zurich Art Prize and le Prix Culturel Manor and took part in ILLUMInations (curated by Bice Curiger) at the 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy. Recent solo exhibitions include Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX (2016); Kunsthaus Aarau, Aarau, Switzerland (2011); MAMCO, Geneva, Switzerland (2011); Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, Switzerland (2011); Le Magasin, Grenoble, France (2011); Theatre de l'Usine, Geneva, Switzerland which also travelled to Swiss Institute Contemporary Art, New York, NY (2011); University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI (2010); The Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO (2009); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA (2008); The Kitchen, New York, NY (2008) and The Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL (2006). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands (2015); Centre d'art contemporain de la Ferme du Buisson, Noisiel, France (2014); Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France (2013); Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO (2013); CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Annandale-onHudson,
NY (2012); Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland (2012) and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2010). Her
work is held in many prominent public and private collections including Fond National d'Art Contemporain (FNAC), Paris, France; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, Netherlands; Argauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland; Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.
For further press information, images and interview requests please contact Julia Kelly Kennedy:
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1 Designing Identity: Sophie Taeuber, Dada, and the (re)Construction of the Fragmented Self, by Elizabeth Benjamin