Magazine article Artforum International

Mai-Thu Perret: Galerie Barbara Weiss

Magazine article Artforum International

Mai-Thu Perret: Galerie Barbara Weiss

Article excerpt

"Je est un autre" (I Is Somebody Else), Arthur Rimbaud once declared. But what if Rimbaud's "I" were a group of women--a band of disgruntled urbanites who have abandoned their Palm Pilots to live an unscheduled life in the desert? Mai-Thu Perret explores this possibility with "The Crystal Frontier," an ongoing project about a fictional all-female commune in New Mexico whose inhabitants raise chickens, cows, horses, and rabbits. Since 1999, Perret has been writing the story of this Utopian community and creating curious objects that might be its artifacts, prototypes, props, or tools.

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The tale's latest installation installment, "Apocalypse Ballet," takes its cue from J. J. Grandville's 1844 wood engraving Apocalypse du ballet. In his vision of the performance, feet become legs, a dancer, and then a spinning spool of thread, all cheered on by an audience of wineglasses, lobster claws, and clapping hands. Grandville's image, printed in color on the invitation card for the show, acts as a leitmotiv, one that makes Perret's commune look like an attempt to reconsider--to recritique--the rise of industrialization in nineteenth-century Europe and the dizzying aftereffects of mass consumption. The most conspicuous work--four life-size women dancers cast in papier-mache and outfitted with juggling rings and hula hoops in neon, also titled Apocalypse Ballet, 2005--is far less engaging than Grandville's morphing ballerina. Yet Perret's dancers, wearing wigs and illuminated by their neon rings, suggest the spectacle of commodity fetishism, whereby goods become our uncanny doubles. Like the engraving--drawn by one person, only to be printed in quantity--her sculptures bespeak both craft and its alienation through mechanization. The female figures are fabricated by hand but exist as a series. Each figure has hands but no fingers; their only distinguishing features are patch-like colored spheres painted on their faces; their frozen gestures could be part of an improvised solo dance or a regimented chorus line. …

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