Lili Reynaud-Dewar: the Power Structures, Rituals & Sexuality of the European Shorthand Typists
Mary Mary Glasgow 29 August to 3 October
One possible reading of the title of this exhibition might imply that there are Power Structures, Rituals & Sexuality belonging to the category 'the European Shorthand Typists'. And it is with the awkward logic reflected by this reading that I think we can gain ingress to Lili Reynaud-Dewar's practice. That is, with this reading we might at least start to think about what it is her practice is doing.
When artists step into the shoes of cultural historians or into the muddy boots of ethnographers, they subject themselves to rigorous academic scrutiny. For example, in a typically erudite chapter called 'The Artist as Ethnographer' Hal Foster highlighted the many theoretical pitfalls of this type of artistic strategy. Like much of Foster's writing it is driven to expose an art that exploits or capitalises upon cultural difference rather than exposing the mechanisms by which it is fashioned, and so in the case of artists posing as ethnographers we might say that these pitfalls pertain to the dubious or unwitting creation of multiple forms of 'otherness'. First, then, we might be wary of making believe that either the subjects (the European Shorthand Typists) or the artist are 'real' or 'innocent', or somehow outside of ideology. And certainly looking at this exhibition it seems improbable that we would ever project such values onto the work. The videos accompanying the installation pieces, with their refashioning of female stenographers in streamlined suits embellished with willow pattern, and the slightly languorous rituals enacted within sacred circles, do not prompt us to identify with an authentic group or experience. So in this sense we might acknowledge that the inclusion in Reynaud-Dewar's work of subcultural signs, post-colonial references and her allusions here to the anthropological filmmaker Jean Rouch is not a ruse for simply acquiring historical or ethnographic authentication. In other words, Reynaud-Dewar is not so much interested in the issues of patriarchy and gender that might attach to stenography historically or anthropologically. Rather, in her own words, she is more concerned to 'misuse objects' and 'produce different experiences' which might be 'humorous or ritualistic, narrative or completely useless and radically unproductive'.
This emphasis on uselessness might seem to echo the now largely defunct practice of stenography, but it also implies avant-garde aspirations and a move away from the restrained form of production that acted to suppress those shorthand typists. …