Maid in Progress
For the exhibition at The Merchant House (Amsterdam), Mary Sue was inspired by the bourgeois character of the space to give her alter ego the role of a maid. This character embraces both the erotic fantasy à la French maid, and the considerations of its underlying conditions.
We can go back to the kitchen scenes of the great 17th-century Dutch paintings, or to the naturalistic drawings of Isaac Lazarus Israëls, who has been able to look with great talent and respect at the fate of a worker and a servant. But one also naturally thinks of the vaudeville of the nineteenth century, of the infernal place that this creature occupies between the harsh tyranny of the mistress of the house and of the lustful appetites of her husband. The servant cannot escape her social condition, even if because she is emancipated or skilled at intrigue, she manages to rise to a rank forbidden to her. Her progeny remain the fruits of sin, struck with opprobrium. But if we delve deeper into the subtly manipulated cliché, we realize that the traditional character becomes painfully and cruelly relevant today (Octave Mirbeau was followed by Jean Genet). From one tragedy to the other, we arrive at a deeper understanding, which becomes all the more realistically grounded as it passes through the prism of humor.
This time, the maid cleans within the territory of contemporary art. Absorbed in her task, she is not just moved by the art of painting, she gives herself to it entirely, as a practical matter. If she happens to get distracted, it is to daydream of jewels, but the diamonds with which she adorns herself are only the crystals of the chandelier she is supposed to polish. The self-denial that she brings to her task gives her a disarming force and also evidences her inability to escape from her condition except through suicide. Suicide becomes here an obligatory stage of self deprecation. But as we are in the field of art and of fiction, repeated suicides of the character do not bear any consequences. They represent but a moment of respite from further outrages to be faced upon reintegration into life.
Monumental sculpture, fountain, Faux Bronze resin, high gloss finish,
115 x 115 x 215 cm, 2017
"Is a water jet that has lost its spray still a water jet?"
asked the characters of Karl Valentin in front of the fountain of the Sendlinger-Tor-Platz in Munich. In the same vein, one wonders if a fountain that dribbles miserably from the broom and bucket of a maid is still a fountain, or even a monument. Just a few decades ago in France, women did not have the right to register for sculpture courses in the national fine arts academies. They called for a stonemason's stature and beard to confirm the qualification. A yellowed photograph shows an art academy’s sculpture class: in the middle of a group of men proudly displaying facial hair on their chins, there is one woman. But she is naked. It is a model, of course. Statues are generally adorned with the attributes of warlike virility (more so and in particular, in the case of monuments to the dead). But the statue of a maidservant, her weaponry in hand, follows these established codes to an opposing effect. To the erection (of the statue) corresponds the dripping (of the mop). There is no need for a sculptor to handle a slab of rock from now on; Mary Sue has enough strength in her wrist to both whip the eggs and to manipulate the resin.
By ironically returning to the codes of traditional sculpture, the artist does not resort to a regressive act. She employs a material that is used by museums and, in particular, museum shops for reproductions that commercialize facsimiles of universal masterpieces. This resin, which can imitate both marble and bronze, is also used for all the characters that inhabit amusement parks. The extra distance claimed here is therefore perfectly contemporary. Technically speaking, whether she builds a tragicomic carousel (Mary Goes Round, 2009) or a collection of obese animals taken from the bestiary of children's movies (Peek a Pooh, work in progress), Mary Sue goes through a modeling phase before molding the shapes and pouring the resin, which she polishes and paints with the utmost care. The dedication and care reveal a troubling proximity between the artist and her character, leaving out much of naiveté.The character might be naive, but the candor of the artist diffused in its making insinuates a great measure of mordant duplicity. Be that as it may, naiveté is here a tool, if not arguably a formidable weapon; we have learned as much from Grimmelshausen's Simplicius Simplicissimus, picked up by the brave Soldier Švejk, as from Karl Valentin.
Performance video installation for flat screen,
HD color, stereo sound, 8 minutes, loop, 2017
Series of 12 photos, 29x19cm, 2017
Multimedia performance video installation.
HD color, stereo sound, projector, bucket, mop. Continuous duration
(installation view), 2017
Original multiple, c-print, silicone sealed and mounted
in a faux bronze baroque frame, 38,5 x 33 cm, 2017
MAID IN PROGRESS
In situ performance video installation, HD color, stereo sound,
continuous duration, 2017
Her statue may play with bronze, with erecting a proud monument, with installing a public fountain in a basin that is simultaneously a sink and a shower drain, but the subject is no less serious. The relationship of the master/servant or of the bourgeoisie/domestic employees is expanded today to a more general reflection on the status of women. Nothing is worse—in art or life—than "the spirit of seriousness" (Simone de Beauvoir), but nothing is more serious than humor, and it is one of the privileges of the artist to place us precariously between derision and gravity.
MARYSUECIDE n°18 (Fan Service)
Photograph from the performative action from Marysuecide.
C-print 160 x 108 cm, 2017
Text written by Hubert Besacier for the exhibition Making Things Happen at The Merchant House in Amsterdam, 2017