Water declares itself the primary medium of Alix Marie’s ‘La Femme Fontaine’ – its presence in the gallery is inescapable. Running through long, clear tubes, it finds its way into every corner of the space. It scales the high walls only to come back to the ground. It trickles audibly into shining silver bowls and the splashing carries and echoes. It spills on to the floor, collecting in shallow puddles. The disorder of it, untidy and uncontained, is strange to see, seemingly at odds with the modern white walls of Roman Road.
It’s only in the context of the rest of the installation that all of this water finds meaning; throughout the gallery, the tubes are threaded through concrete casts of Marie’s body. On one wall, it’s threaded through the artist’s mouth. In the centre of the room, water drips into three bowls, finding its way through a hand, a breast or a thigh, threatening to submerge them all together.
These concrete forms shape and direct the water, but while some are easy to assign, it takes me several minutes to recognise her back, her neck, or her elbow amongst the collection. The casts are spread throughout the gallery, and Marie’s body surrounds you. They’re mounted on the walls, tucked into corners, littered around your feet, and while the water is insistent, the concrete is unyielding.
This is Marie’s first solo exhibition in London, and with this introduction, she is furthering her ongoing exploration of the body, here focusing on the mythical and cultural affiliations between women and water. There are sirens and river nymphs in Greek myth; the goddess Aphrodite was famously born out of sea foam. In Ancient Egypt, the River Nile was represented by a goddess, and in Arthurian legend, the Lady of the Lake plays a central though ambiguous role in the story. Standing in ‘La Femme Fontaine’, you place yourself in their domain. Surrounded as you are by water, they’re in control.
This, though is oversimplified. For while water might be connected to feminine power, Marie is tapping into other cultural associations as well. In the messiness of the installation, through the discomfort that provokes, she is invoking the idea of the abject, exploring and threatening cultural definitions of propriety regarding the female body and bodily functions. There is much about the female body that is contained by society, much that is deemed impure and inappropriate. The title of the exhibition highlights this – ‘la femme fontaine’ is a popular French expression for female ejaculation, an event of sexual expression that remains contentious and is often censored. In the UK, for example, it is banned from being shown in porn.
In this installation, Marie’s hard, concrete casts seem to lavish in wetness; they are one with the fluids that run through them. They refuse to be the soft, pink flesh that society desires. They refuse to be embarrassed or to be separated from the truth of their reality. They stand solid, for themselves, and embrace and demand power.