Lili Reynaud-Dewar: Live Through That ? !

17 May–23 August 2014

Lili Reynaud-Dewar: Still from LIVE THROUGH THAT?!, 2014
Lili Reynaud-Dewar: Still from LIVE THROUGH THAT?!, 2014
Lili Reynaud-Dewar: LIVE THROUGH THAT?!, installation view, 2014. Photo: Johan Wahlgren

Can literature be exhibited? Can a naked, restless dance become another form of critique of the art institution if, like the myth of the Trojan horse, the institution is privately occupied by the artist? What if being an artist implies having many rooms of ones’ own? By way of a ruthless combination of all likely media and source material, the first solo exhibition in Scandinavia by French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar (born 1975, La Rochelle) aims to incarnate such questions.

Writing narratives and art criticism is an integral part of Reynaud-Dewar’s praxis. Her works often integrate texts by writers who have rejected fiction, and thus metaphor, to make their own life and body the subject of their work. A short essay by American poet Eileen Myles lends its title to this exhibition, as well as to a number of her other exhibitions in 2014. This deliberate ‘surplus’ sacrifices the circulation and production of Reynaud-Dewar’s works, no matter what their differences or similarities, to confront them – and viewers – with contradiction, stutter and devaluation. Myles’ words create the basis for Reynaud-Dewar’s new commission at Index, which comprises a video, an ink fountain bed and a series of sound sculptures.

In the silent black and white video Live Through That ? ! (2014), the artist’s naked body is made-up in a dark tone, which makes her look ambiguously black. She performs a slapstick dance reminiscent of Josephine Baker’s remarkable danse sauvage. Baker – an Afro-American woman who lived in white colonial Paris – is an iconic figure who stands for the critical experience of viewing herself as an object to intentionally define unsettling readings of the social status quo. To highlight that ‘black’ is not only a colour, the artist references Baker as a result of her interest in the long history of avant-gardism subverting dominant sexual, racial and political norms.

The work is part of an on-going series that began in 2011 in which Raynaud-Dewar video-records herself dancing in the empty rooms of institutions that have invited her to exhibit her work; a sort of video journal that could be considered, in the artist’s own words, a ‘fidgeting and intimate institutional critique’. The video was shot in-between exhibitions at Index, at a ‘private’ time for production, when the public dimension of the institution is on hold. For the artist this approach is a way to enact art’s homelessness itself (and of its discourse). We therefore get to experience the range of typologies of the art spaces she encounters, while the circulation of her own body becomes a signifier of today’s need for hyper-visibility by contemporary artists.

Language and the bedroom are central themes of a series of four sculptures shaped as nearly double-sized beds. Three of the beds utter a voice reading out Myles’ amusing description of her obsession with dental flossing. The vulgar materialism typical of every day life doesn’t imply normality, because for the poet it is a survival technique that enables her to reflect upon life, death and the politics of the body. This evidence of the mundane is brought together by a techno tune composed by Nicolas Murer A.K.A Macon, a frequent collaborator of the artist, simulating a sense of repetition and exhaustion. A fourth bed stages, instead, a fountain of black ink that is an explicit tribute to a famous quote by Jean Genet who, in his 1986 memoir Prisoner of Love wrote, ‘In white America the Blacks are the characters in which history is written. They are the ink that gives the white page a meaning.’ Having consistently questioned the history of race struggle in her practice, Reynaud-Dewar incorporates the celebrated poet of revolt and spokesperson for the US Black Panther Party within the leitmotif of the bedroom, thus creating a dysfunctional showroom. This manoeuvre alludes to the visibility, accessibility and connection of the artist’s body, which has now become an object of critique towards the expectation of, in her words, ‘giving oneself to the viewer, instead of keeping ourselves as artists.’ She continues, ‘this seemingly ever more stretchable, responsive art world is reaching some critical threshold. The symptom is a palpable mood of intellectual exhaustion.’

Reynaud-Dewar lives and works in Grenoble, France. Together with Dorothée Dupuis and Valérie Chartrain, she is the co-founder of the Feminist art and entertainment magazine Pétunia. Since 2011, she has been leading a reading seminar from her hotel room ‘Teaching as an adolescent’ with her students at HEAD in Geneva. This has led to a cycle of collaborative exhibitions with her students at Forde, Geneva (2012), Consortium, Dijon and 21er Haus, Vienna (2013) and the 2014 Marrakech Biennial. Recent solo exhibitions include Emanuel Layr, Vienna (2014), Belvedere, Vienna and Clearing, New York (2013), Karma International, Zurich and Magasin, Grenoble (2012), Mary Mary, Glasgow and Bielefelder Kunstverein (2011), Kunsthalle Basel and Frac Champagne Ardenne, Reims (2010). In 2013 and 2014 her work was also featured in group exhibitions held at the Logan Center, Chicago, The Studio Museum, Harlem, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Kunsthall Oslo and Lisson Gallery, London. In 2013 Reynaud-Dewar was the recipient of the prize Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, France.

With special thanks to Institut Français de Suède who have kindly supported this exhibition.

Index would like to give special thanks to Peroni.