Annette Messager

By Perchuk, Andrew | Artforum International, December 1993 | Go to article overview

Annette Messager


Perchuk, Andrew, Artforum International


In The Uses of Enchantment, 1975, Bruno Bettelheim asserts that, for a child, the psychological function of fantasy and especially fairy tales is to gain "understanding . . . not through rational comprehension of the nature and content of his unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out daydreams--ruminating, rearranging, and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures." Annette Messager's recent exhibition, "Les Piques" (The pikes) fulfills this function by combining references to daily events and realities with submerged fantasies, hallucinations, and horrors.

In a series of four tableaux spread across two galleries, Messager employed thin metal rods either to impale or to support objects against the wall. The largest of these tableaux, which gave the exhibition its title, consisted of 183 rods spread across 50 feet on two adjoining walls. In their implicit violence, these objects represent a continuation of one of Messager's dominant themes--the brutality of patriarchal society toward women--which she has explored since the '70s in works such as Les Tortures Volontaires (Voluntary tortures, 1972). At the same time, Les Piques, 1992-93, presents a significant reversal of this theme in its allusion not to repression but to anarchic rebellion, to the masses of sansculottes brandishing the impaled heads of aristocrats through the streets of Paris during the Reign of Terror.

Les Piques is in some ways a contemporary diorama, whose hallucinatory story is populated by characters that combine a twisted childishness with an apprehension of violence. The various objects that comprise the tableaux include parts that seem to belong to stuffed animals and grotesquely shaped dolls, which are impaled by the pikes--as are distinct body parts, an abundance of phallic shapes, and cruciforms.

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