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EXHIBITIONS

Hanne Lippard “Ulyd” and Miriam Laura Leonardi “Help in the Search!” at Fri Art Kunsthalle, Fribourg

Hanne Lippard “Ulyd”

“Sophokles’ frequently cited dictum Silence is the kosmos of women has its medical analog in women’s amulets from antiquity which picture a uterus equipped with a lock at the mouth. When it is not locked the mouth may gape open and let out unspeakable things”.1

For Ulyd, Hanne Lippard has developed a series of new works that explore the social forces governing female verbal expression, an expression that has been adroitly shaped since the time of the ancient Greeks as an instrument used for confining the place of women within a restricted social perimeter. The feminine was considered uncontrollable, and its language was fashioned in such a way as to ensure that women were continually attentive to the tone of their own voices and ways of expressing themselves. Until recently, the use of obscene and direct language was generally forbidden to them. Should they resort to it, the concomitant proof of their impurity and uncontrollable nature, supposedly inherent in their use of such language, would be held up against them in return. Between these two poles – a form of imposed expression and obscenity – female speech has long been limited to a narrow field. While gender relations have gradually become more balanced over time, former cultural codes still structure the use of language. Even where an obscene and irreverent form of expression is used as a tool to liberate female speech, such expression remains a mere reaction to these norms. Our collective unconscious has still not been fully decolonised, and many women confess to practicing self-censorship in all manner of situation where power struggles are at issue.

At Fri Art, the exhibition Ulyd, a Norwegian word that is difficult to translate but that defines an unpleasant and uncontrolled noise, serves as a sounding board for these questions, while the main room crystallises attendant tensions. A muted space, soft and silent, bordered by Austrian curtains, the floor of which, covered in a light carpet, plays host to two variations on the theme of linguistic obscenity, which serves the artist as raw material. Uncontrollable reflexes from psychological depths, terms of abuse and profanity indicative of the personality of the man or woman using them. The sound piece Blunt (2018) resonates like an emancipatory soliloquy whose insults are self-censored. The words distort and contract, seem to escape the control of the speaker. They lose their meaning and become a linguistic abstraction of rhythmic logorrhea.

On the wall, new pieces (Curse I-XIII, 2018) reinterpret Roman curse tablets. These curse tablets were usually created by voiceless, provincial, non-citizens, women or slaves, those whose speech did not count and who saw themselves relegated to the symbolic confines of the empire. While these tablets promised vengeance, they provided, above all, a release for psychological strain, like the platforms of expression offered by social media today. The artist has composed thirteen tablets as variations on the theme of resentment and malevolence. These revenge letters, that the artist sees as much as parodies as visual poems, provide a humorous commentary on the various proposals and themes of the exhibitions. Some describe absurd, banal situations that highlight the superficiality of our daily lives.

On the other side of a curtain, the second room is plunged in darkness and hosts the installation No Answer is Also an Answer (2017), previously shown at the David Dale Gallery in Glasgow. The space is enlivened by a subtle play of lights within which the recording of a text is played; it is composed of fragments of formulas of politeness and ready-made phrases as found in the most mundane email exchanges. This poetic piece explores the absurdity of this bland, neutral defer-ence and gives the exhibition’s take on social criticism a particularly scathing aspect.

Miriam Laura Leonardi “Help in the Search!” 

At first glance, Miriam Laura Leonardi’s lightweight objects do not require any more engagement and attention than an Instagram feed. Designed to be entirely self-referential, these exhibition Lorem Ipsums are pretexts for the creation of mirroring effects, spatial relationships and temporal bridges that condition and punctuate the attendee’s visit.

The first room houses a diptych (yeah, 2018) that draws the visitor to the centre of the space. Suspended horizontally, an ambigram in neon tubing whose graphical representation enables the reading of the word in both directions, while the inverted bronze of a two-bodied beetle lies on the ground attached by the head. Each of the two sign-objects expresses a self-contradictory meaning in terms of aesthetic representation. At a second level, this impact is also played out between them. The two signs arranged as a cross both complement and counter each other. Separately and together, they engulf themselves and each other: the evanescence of the suspended interjection “yeah” and the weight of the beetle on its back on the ground, materialising the play of meaning, both in reference to themselves and each other.

In the second space, a film (Aliens &, 2018) produced and shot on a hill above the Catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome is projected onto a wooden structure. This static shot reveals a frame constructed as a generic image (a green hill against a backdrop of blue sky) in a reference to the Bliss Image, the ubiquitous Microsoft Windows XP wallpaper. In this setting and without prior rehearsal, the artist has directed an action that mimics an advertising aesthetic. The actors gradually stand up and leave the picnic blanket, walk to the camera and speak directly to the viewer, as they would in broadcasting media. Their words, smothered by the fries they are eating, prevent us from properly understanding what they are saying. This absurd metaphor of the inefficiency of communication continues in the background, on the top of a hill where the construction of a wooden hut will never be fully completed.

The hut frame is materialised in the exhibition space and serves as support for the projection screen. This wooden construction (Help in the Search!, 2018) is the same width as the hut in the film, while its sides are three times narrower, turning it into an urban advertising panel. The print advertisement used by the artist to cast for extras for the film in a Roman bar hangs from one of the joists. These meta devices weave links between the production process and the existence of the exhibition. They bring together the different space-times that allow the artist to create her exhibition, her production, the fictional space of the film and that of the exhibition as offered up to the visitor.

The exhibition is designed so that the visitor’s path through the two rooms takes on a symmetry. The visitor thus becomes subjected to a loop motif: the perspective provided of the neon and the bronze is identical each time the visitor passes through, whether entering the space or leaving it. The conditions that make it possible to understand the two works are inverted in the two rooms: the visitor must remain motionless in order to view moving images, whereas she/he must be in movement for the ambigram, which is static, to be revealed. Like the double beetle lying on its back, the spectator is trapped in a system of superficial vanities, where vacuity and that which is unfinished remain lazily on repeat.

Notes

1.

Anne CARSON, The Gender of Sound, in Glass, Irony and God, New Directions Publishing, 1995, pp 120-121

at Fri Art Kunsthalle, Fribourg
until 15 July 2018

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