Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Annette Messager: sous vent (wind back)


Annette Messager: sous vent (wind back)
June 9 – October 3, 2004

Organized by the Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Annette Massager’s site-specific installation at the Couvent des Cordeliers is both a response to the site’s previous life as a convent and a continuation of the artist’s investigation of the veil as metaphor. Situated in one corner of a vast room and extending along a length of crumbling wall, Messager has installed a black oblong of silk fabric. Imperceptibly at first, and then with increasing confidence, the cloth inflates and ripples with gusts of air. At one end the cloth grows from a concealing shroud into something viscous and reminiscent of a lava flow. At the other, the air’s strength dissipates and the fabric ripples in broader motions that eventually billow above viewers’ heads.

Beneath the canopy, clusters of illuminated objects flicker like deep-sea treasures. There are moments when the fabric sits so close to these shapes that they are quite clear to the eye, revealing kitsch collections of plastic limbs and masks as well as more ambiguous bundles of thread and cloth. The gusting air eventually suspends the fabric above these forms making the clusters less easy to name – and more interesting for it.

From the viewer’s perspective it is difficult to know how to respond to the waves of air filled fabric that lack the predictable rhythms of ocean waves. The increasing sound of the fans used to generate the wind creates a certain atmosphere of anxiety. But curiosity overrides much of this discomfort and draws they eye towards the more ambiguous of the glowing forms. At their best these clusters manage to recall childhood memories of reading under the bed covers or in a tent long after bedtime.

As the creation exhales at the far end of the room, eight necklace-sized hoops unwind from the ceiling and capture the final crescendo of air. Those who were quick enough (there were many attempts) drop to our knees and shamelessly peer under the flap – a gesture I immediately regretted for it broke some of the spell conjured by such an unassuming form. The weights then slowly wind back into the high ceiling and the lighted forms beneath begin to turn off, creating a more foreboding but equally interesting skin of flaccid fabric.

Surface Design Journal