Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mette Tommerup at Dorsch Gallery

Alfredo Triff

"11 Glimpses" is a show of oil paintings in small format, by Danish-American artist Mette Tommerup at Dorsch Gallery. The exhibit is an interesting departure from her previous work.

Orb Passage (Lambda Print under Plexiglass, 2004).

 Unpolished Valentine (Ink on Metallic Sheet on Board, 2006),

This is what I wrote for her 2003 exhibition, "Free-transform":
"Tommerup's images look fuzzy, as if acknowledging their vagueness in today's ambiguous political contexts. See them through a transparent beehive wall, like a maze of flecks where each little hexagon holds a hue and your eyes move from shade to shade. My favorite piece is a handsome, big rectangular photo of a wall covered with graffiti -later I discover it is a segment of the Berlin Wall. Read it: The message is the medium."
Some themes remain constant: Tommerup's fondness for the small format, her odd and witty sense of humor, the almost sculptural quality of her pieces, her use of color. Yet, "11 Glimpses" reveal new painterly, realistic ruminations. Quick, watery and somewhat fuzzy, this work is imbued with psychological meaning, as if windows through which we are welcomed to gaze a series of potentially liminal -precarious- acts.

What are these glipmses about?

In contemporary capitalism, the relations of production (that is, the formation of subjects who willingly "accept" their position), occurs outside capitalist relations of production.* That's when the private space of domesticity comes in. How are individuals turned into subjects? How do they negotiate and channel their frustrations and fantasies?

Garden Hose (Oil on linen mounted on panel, 12 x 16 inches, 2010) 

One could take the image above as an innocent playful moment between two women (in the house's backyard?), or as less than implicit golden shower, with one genuflecting girl as the receiver. Is the artist building enough ambiguity to support -and also probe- feminist discourse?**

A side note: Ash Tray, (Oil on linen on panel 9 x 12 inches, 2010), works as rhetorical pictogram. Tommerup builds this relationship between title and image as a sort of uneasy refraction; meaning is visually savored once again, but without a didactic aftertaste.

Burning Sofa (Oil on linen on panel, 12 x 16 inches, 2010) can be taken as commentary on domestic everydayness. A sitting man is so oblivious to a raging ball of fire next to him, that one of the two gets obviously reduced to a mere symbol. One can think of a limit case: Are we not in hell already?

Newspaper (Oil on linen on panel, 16 x 12 inches, 2010) illustrates an atmosphere of eccentric suspicion. Behaviors are framed as deadpan, but they seem devoid of their everyday "expected" intentions.   

Domesticity is out of kilter with modern disciplinary projects, because at least one can escape the oppressive spatial and temporal regulations of the 9-5 work space. Yet, there is not much to say about these people's surroundings. They dwell not in places, but in "situations," as if cut off from their environments (nearness-to and depth become redundant), framed by a snapshot.

In late capitalist societies, the home can be an insidious place for the negotiation of interests and fantasies. As alienated subjects, it becomes extremely difficult to escape our means-to-end existence. So we end up as instruments of our own alienation. One gets this much. Yet, something makes me uncomfortable about Tommerup's images. What I mean is her preference of time over place, event over situatedness. 

Hanger (Oil on linen on panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2010)

I wished to see more of these subject's environments. Not only would it enrich my  understanding of their existence, but it would make this overall preference of event over dwelling -already- built in our daily practices more problematic. Having said that, I like the fact that Mette sticks to this smaller format (it's not easy to pack punch in this much area as she does).

Tommerup's dog series is hilarious. The dog becomes a proxy for some of our most revered habits.

Above, Dog as Shrek, (Oil on linen 16 x 12 inches, 2010).
Dog as Turkey, (Oil on linen on panel 16 x 12 inches, 2009). 

 Dog Yoga, (Oil on panel 9 x 12 inches, 2010).

"11 Glimpses" is humorous and vague enough to make us ponder the -uneasy- symbolic merger of "home" and "self." Let's not forget that it's precisely through the seclusion of the self in the home that late-capitalism (grounded in the principle of individualism), reproduces itself.
* French philosopher Louis Althusser explores this idea in his 1970 essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." **The conventional view of the family was challenged by feminist writers from the 1960s onwards, when it was shown that the home was not, as we had beliecved, a place where women exercise their own interests, but instead, a locus where women became the slaves of other people's needs. The home was much the same as the public world in that it represented the principal site within which women's lives were oppressed -often endangered- by men. Radical feminists argued that men had created a patriarchy in society -an integrated web of constraints to keep women in their place- servicing the needs of men.


Feminista said...

I like her work. It reminds me of very specific moments in my life as a teenager.

miamibourbaki said...

Feminista: You're right, I guess Mette's art has that angle to it.