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In her exhibition Rite of Passage Rachel Apelt employs a number of aesthetic and structural strategies in order to create a feminist/artistic space and experience. I will attempt to outline these strategies punctuating them with quotes from Girlie's Story, the poetic narrative which accompanied the paintings.
History began with the Keeper But this isn't his story, it is mine.
The primary strategy at work in the exhibition is that of mythologisation. The paintings depict a narrative of self-realisation. Girlie, an archetype of the passive oppressed woman, realises her servitude and conquers the Keeper, a personified archetype of patriarchy. The strategy of mythologisation finds its artistic antecedents in William Blake. Through his lithography and poetry Blake attacked the oppressive morality of organised religion and class structure in late eighteen century England by re-creating the myths of creation , sexual maturation and expression: notions of innocence and experience
Apelt 's myth of Girlie and the Keeper describes a feminist experience which goes beyond biography, history and the individual, allowing imagery of figuration and portraiture to escape from a modernist aesthetic fetish and a bourgeois humanism. Time is feminised. Mythic time, lying outside history, achieves a sustained sense of presence,while the linear time of the narrative is generative, focussing upon a future of birth rather than the finite moment of death.
Impotent drifting beached me in other nonspaces, and from these vantage points I could sense the invisible-other entities who fell into such gaps and nonspaces, and outside history.
'Girlie ' is not any one woman nor every women but an aspect of the female as defined by patriarchy. Thus her mythological personification and final annihilation is a core experience essential to both the psychological construction of the self and the political and ideological construction of patriarchy. Girlie's identity in itself is a victory over patriarchal fragmentation which denies a female unity, isolating and objectifying women into so many 'types', (the arrayed spectrum from whore to wife). Her journey of selfregeneration may be read as a reversal of the Oedipal crisis, a destruction of the transcendent Law of the Father and a restoration of the holistic unity of the mother-child dyad.
Huddling deeper into sleep, I drifted into dark waters, where the souls of the dispossessed whispered their secret...
In her dreaming, Girlie identifies herself with the poor, the prisoners and the poisoned soil. Again the mythological narrative serves to unify the fragmented oppressed or patriarchy. Feminism is thus defined as a liberating move ment emergent from a hegemonic patriarchy.
I felt I had no space to be, that I was always wrestling with the Keeper who endlessly resumed my space and made it his.
The issue of space is crucial to feminism in our postmodern age of pastiche, paradigms and juxtaposition. Rite of Passage weaves a feminist discursive space. No longer does the art, objectified, solicit the subjective response. Instead, the paintings, the text and the viewer 'speak' to one another creating an experiential space.
I heard the Keep spluttering about my hysteria, my womb centred madness.
Within the mythological structure, expressionist figuration and landscape proved an effective postmodern aesthetic strategy. The femme fatales of Munch and the swirling trees and skies of Van Gogh and their accompanying subtext of the ultra-individual male artist (hero come madman) are reworked into the feminist space of marginalised hysteria. Girlie speaks from the irrational space of the feminine where the expressionist landscape is swollen with core imagery, metaphoric of Girlie's rage and confinement. The womb-space, present throughout the paintings is both a suffocating, encasing cocoon of oppression beneath the Keeper's gaze and the space of subversion for 'rebirth ':
Girlie choked on the acrid dawn and I scrambled out of her skin.
Rachel Apelt has crystallised a profound female space and experience. The liberating effect of her praxis, the strength of its positivism, the holistic treatment of the self and the environment give great hope to the future of feminism.