Caliban and the Witches

Johanna Rocard, Heléne Hulak, Lux Miranda Curated by Céline Sabari Poizat 20. 9. 2023 – 25. 9. 2023

0.09 – 24.09.23 (25.09 on appointement)
Opening 20. 09 17.00 – 23.00
Performance 19h – 20. 9.
Open daily 10–18h
Part of SUMO 2023
Part of Prague Art Week

This exhibition is a tribute to Silvia Federici‘s essay Caliban and the witch. The author describes how the sixteenth-century witch-hunt was an instrument of domination of the female body, in the service of capitalism‘s control over the reproduction of labour power. Like the work of the Italian-American researcher, this exhibition is political: it is ecological, it is feminist, this exhibition is resolutely anti-capitalist.

Ecological, because convinced that content and form can no longer be in contradiction. The exhibition began in Paris when we left by train, is expressed in the standard of welcome given to the artists and in the production of the works. It will end with the return of the works by grouped transport. The significance of the story we are telling here is fundamental. However, at a time when the living world is in its death throes, there is no reason why human stories and creations should diminish the life capital of our cohabitants.

Feminist, because this exhibition explores two aesthetics of gender assignment : that of the witch and that of woven media. A visit is paid to the figure of the witch as a cunning and dangerous female character, rooted in our collective unconscious. The witch is this manipulative woman with ancient knowledge who uses black magic to lead us astray. For Johanna Rocard, the witch is a riotous woman who rebels against the established order and refuses to be silenced. She is a free woman who raises the banner of revolution and refuses to accept life if it is reduced to domination. A whole lineage of women is woven through the artist‘s installation and performance. A lineage of women who speak out and swear not to be silenced: from the witch of the late Middle Ages to the most famous rioter of the Paris Commune, Louise Michel and her black banner. If the French Revolution was probably „bourgeois“, the Paris Commune was certainly anarchist and utopian, in tune with the historical moment we are living through in the 21st century. The performative device and the installation, featuring the black flag and costumes in a time of resistance, could easily evoke the W.I.T.C.H in Wallstreet in 1968, or those in Portland in 2017, against Donald Trump‘s white-hetero-patriarchal order, the red ‚handmaids‘ marching around the world in 2018, the Iranian women brandishing the veil in 2022. Dress is at the heart of the approach, a medium of resistance, a therapeutic staging of the body whose movement clashes with the rigidity of the dominant rule. The witch is also a collective imagination to be reclaimed : that of hooked fingernails, green skin and a devouring mouth. Hélène Hulak makes them the core of her visual grammar. By working on the aesthetics of the monster, the artist‘s works speak to us about the manipulation of images and the marginality of the feminine. The devouring woman who pulls all the strings manifests herself here in two forms: a selection of fabric pieces and a mural. The fabric pieces are part of an effort to reclaim sewing as a feminine medium. As for the painting, it extends and devours the space, with no apologies for taking its place. Hélène Hulak‘s works are also fragments of the body, a body cut out, coveted, desired, devoured. Her work might remind us of the idea of the ‚absent referent‘ of the author Carole J Adams, who studies in the Sexual Politics of Meat how, in carnism, the cutting up of the animal into parts is a necessity in order to make us forget the living being that is being consumed. To go further, this concept also tells us that this same mechanism is used by the patriarchy on women‘s bodies to better justify their domination and exploitation. From then on, a thigh, a breast, a mouth are eroticized for the benefit of male desire and in the absence of the person, the woman, to whom they belong. To speak of witches is therefore also to speak of a form of capitalo-patriarchal cannibalism of the images close to what Jacques Derrida called „carnophallogocentrism“. In line with this idea, Lux Miranda‘s work attempts to free itself from the imaginations and postures of domination. The forms are the fruit of an impregnation of the world and long mediation. The artist‘s body of work tends to create what she herself calls a large „library of ecofeminist images“, in other words an imaginary world born of attention, care, the experience of the body, the experience of the margins, outside the well-trodden paths of contemporary rational capitalist society. Lux Miranda‘s work embraces what Starhawk, the Californian witch and author, calls „the power-from-within“, the power that comes from the heart, the truth that emerges from our darkest fears. The carpet as an artistic medium is a stand against a postural approach to art. Here, the works will be on the floor, will be turned over, will be both pleasant and demanding. The work encapsulates its know-how and the time devoted to it.
To conclude with the words of Silvia Federici : « We would be deceiving ourselves if we thought it didn‘t concern us (…) as soon as we strip the persecution of witches of their metaphysical trappings, we realize just how close these phenomena are to what we are experiencing, here and now. »*

** Caliban and the witch, Silvia Federici

Johanna Rocard : 1988, lives and works in Rennes. Johanna Rocard questions the notion of the collective through performative devices that borrow from ritual. She uses an aesthetic that blends witchcraft, shamanism, popular festivals and contemporary counter-cultures to question the poetry of the things that bind us together, and to build community against capitalist individualism. Textiles and finery are summoned. We’re talking about resistance. “Every action, every gesture, every form that makes up my work is meant to be apotropaic, a term that in ancient Greek refers to the use of magic and energy to ward off the evil spells that are characteristic of times of struggle and transition.”Johanna Rocard.

Hélène Hulak : 1990, Lives and works in Lyon. With the work of Hélène Hulak, it’s time to shout out the distorted and get out the claws! The young artist’s work reverses the capitalist feminine imaginary. Characterised by saturated chroma, long teeth, protruding claws and outrageous measurements, Hélène Hulak’s all-consuming aesthetic posits disorder as a principle. It’s like a response to Picasso and advertising: no, the deconstruction of the female body does not belong to the eroticizing viewer; from now on, it will be an exposure of the emotional power of the feminine. Hélène Hulak works with textile techniques as opportunities to re-appropriate irreverent creative materials and techniques, far removed from the domestication to which they have been assigned. The artist also explores the invasiveness of the mural in a technique of urgency. Water-based paint is applied with a simple sponge gesture, giving the work an accusatory vibrancy. Be careful and Take care.

Lux Miranda : 1990, Lives and works in Paris. Lux Miranda is an artist who frees herself from the dominant imaginary. Through a meditative approach to creation, the young artist is developing what she calls a “library of ecofeminist forms” in that these forms do not rely on any pre-existing rationality or collective narrative, but rather on a vibratory experience of life situated in time and space. Lux’s works are uninhibited. They offer an incomparable playground for shapes and colours, free from any attempt at institutionalisation. The carpet has this effect of closeness and softness, which in no way detracts from the complexity of the experience. Lux Miranda’s creative act gives her the position of a witch with ancestral knowledge, like an appeal to the innocent unconscious, the one that knows deep down what we feel, and to the primordial gesture of creation.

Exhibition in Berlinskej Model gallery is supported by ARTER.