Pauline Curnier Jardin welcomes you to her garden of earthly delights. In her new performance piece Resurrection Plot, the Amsterdam-based French artist incorporates the greatest hits of the Renaissance’s enfants terribles into this anachronistic Gesamtkunstwerk. Here, Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s fruit-and-vegetable headed portraitures reemerge as squirming conjoined bodies in latex fetishwear. Bernard Palissy’s gorgeous ceramic platters teeming with flora and serpentine fauna set the stage for the nubile performers to play, create, and destroy in what feels like a Dionysian orgy. Indeed, an ominous aura of impending self-dissolution pervades the performance, casting its shadow over the performers who transmogrify across races, genders, and species.
The audience is treated to a sexual anthropology of the nonhuman, perhaps similar to actor Isabella Rossellini’s famed Green Porno series. Curnier Jardin focuses on the auto-reproductive and regenerative abilities of the snail and the lizard, juxtaposing these cycles of rebirth with the tableaux vivants evocative of male Renaissance artistic creations. The artist’s description of her work embeds a critique of the “conquering hubris” of the lauded figure of the “Renaissance Man” and its various iterations across time. One wonders if the “Plot” of the performance’s title not only refers to the garden-stage tended by the metamorphosing performers but also to the sinister machinations of the male artist in his unending auto-reproduction. Is this a sublation of the feminine for the ascendency of masculine artistry as sublime “high Renaissance?” Is the signifier “Renaissance Man” one such taxonomy that has the effect of erasing the feminine from art history into perpetuity? Does the piece suggest that the “plot” of the historical period of “the Renaissance” is to ensure the self-rebirth of man through the exclusion of woman?
If so, Curnier Jardin’s characters don’t go down without a fight. In her idiosyncratic way of cosmological world-making, she deconstructs mythic origin stories that give rise to the privileging of male logocentrism (the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, Darwin’s Origin of the Species) through embodying the historically derided figure of the nonhuman or the animal. In one of the more memorable and disturbing sequences, the performers slip under Palissy’s undulating serpent forming the perimeter of the garden, winding along the audience with grotesque rubber human faces rising from the underbelly of the legless reptile. Curnier Jardin’s carnivalesque idiom reverses the violent hierarchy of human over animal, allowing the castrated serpent of origin-myth to rise above the bodies of the humans punished for artistic or intellectual hubris. In this exigent critique of the Anthropocene, the artist excoriates the gross racisms of the past and present, conjuring the terrifying image of Christiaen van Couwenbergh’s painting “The Rape of the Negress” as she imbricates the production of art in an emerging network of overseas colonial fantasy. This performance activates the trace of the Renaissance on our contemporary moment, traces which circulate widely and often invisibly, for good or for ill.
Resurrection Plot was Curated by Charles Aubin and presented at Pioneer Works.
Andrew Ragni is a writer and critic currently pursuing his doctorate in Comparative Literature at New York University. He lives in Brooklyn.
PERFORMA 15: WRITING LIVE involves an international group of curators, critics, artists and scholars, bringing together a unique mix of different voices in a network of critical writing and debate around Performa 15. Throughout the biennial the participants contribute to an ongoing conversation through a wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary understanding of themes, concepts, and issues of live art and performance with substantial academic and historical consideration. WRITING LIVE is directed by Marc Arthur, and includes PERFORMA15 Writing Live Fellows Nicholas Croggon, Ayanna Dozier, Shelton Lindsay, Andrew Ragni, Macushla Robinson, Leah Werier, and Gillian Young.