We are welcomed into Annette Messager’s world by a large-scale installation criss-crossing, weaving and tangling one of the major exhibition spaces at Marian Goodman Gallery. ‘Daily’ (2016) features ropes of black thread akin to dusted cobwebs, a recurring thematic throughout the show used to strangle and surrender items of gigantic proportions; scissors, combs, keys and locks. Items charged with domestic associations lie surrendered in mid-air, transfixed and immobile, a metaphor for frustration which is echoed in the exhibition’s accompanying work.
Messager’s exhibition comes at an interesting time for notions of political emancipation and collectivity; a Trump presidency, a Brexit vote and the rise of far-right conservatism in France alongside tropes of misanthropic neoliberalism proliferating western democracy have paved the way for a protest renaissance. ‘Ensemble (Together)’ (2013) hints at this new stomping ground of political conflict – a wall of operational signage is used to deliver the reality of our unsustainable political environment. The controversial French face covering ban of 2010 is represented in this wall of aggression alongside signs stating no guns and no drink driving – here we see a pointed message in the works’ identification of contemporary political contradiction.
Messager seemingly identifies and ruminates on the complexity of our political landscape and environment, as well as the propensity for humankind to construct nuanced webs of legalities which are objectively speaking supposed to democratise our lived experience. The work ‘Le Mariage pour tous (Wedding for All)’ (2016) depicts a civil partnership with one strand of blood-tinged thread emanating from its unity. Here Messager painfully locates our subjectivity as either revoked or removed, by discussing political autonomy as the requirement to adhere to existing patriarchal norms. We don’t challenge our current political system but desperately try to normalise ourselves within it, begging for acceptance.
In response, the work ‘Uterus doigt d’honneur (Uterus Giving the Finger)’ (2017) brings to the fore a classic image of female liberation and autonomy which has become a totem pole for cisgendered rebellion. Unintentionally, a symbol created and adopted by the rebellion naively acts up rippling frustrations for classes of women outside of the simplistic cis ideology for whom the symbol of a uterus doesn’t represent their physical lived experience as women. Here the contradiction deepens to frustrate and strangle progression leaving it tangled in the evocative suspension of Messager’s black webs.
Through this torrid reflection, I genuinely felt a comforting reassurance to be surrounded by Messager’s webs of confusion, restraint and destruction – the emblematic use of red and black allows for a formative bureaucratic iconography to Messager’s show. Nothing more illustrates this than the series of acrylics on paper ruminating on menstruation – mainly titled in the prefix of ‘My’ – ‘Mon Ketchup (My Ketchup)’ (2016), ‘Mes Ragnagnas (My Red Rags)’ (2016), ‘Mes Lunes (My Moons)’ (2016), ‘Mes Affaires (My Business)’ (2016) Messager adds a subjectivity to this lived experience which allows for it to grow a political autonomy. In Messager’s work we witness the crossroads of democratic rationalism in which lived experiences such as menstruation, clothing choices and who we decide to spend our lives with are resolutely strangled and frustrated by the political webs we cast over them, rendering the subject not emancipated but as a palpable idiom of democratic failure – trapped. By re-thinking our systematic infrastructure we may break the thread that suspends its progression.