You are here
In the era of post-representation and of the end of the subject, the "Naming of Woman" has been, paradoxically, a concern of the Master Thinkers. This should not surprise us, because naming the Other is seen to be able to stave off Death. However, it has proven a problem for the woman's/artist's signature, exposed as it is to attacks of being essentialist and nostalgic for presence or identity in authorship. Instead of falling for this ruse, a number of contemporary women artists are successfully opting for an oblique strategy of what I would term: PUTTING WOMAN UNDER ERASURE
The recent exhibition of four installation works and a catalogue text by Anne Ooms is an excellent example of this strategy, and is highlighted in the exhibition title, Female Llama Pissing in the Wind, which also names (numerically) each of the works, including the text. The essay (printed without title) is meant to function as an artwork in itself, appearing in the list of works as Female Llama V. On a closer reading, this text offers itself up as a Freudian mystic writing pad, bearing the trace of an arche-text, while effectively employing a strategy of ERASURE.
In Female Llama V the artist refers to children's Alpha Language Learning Cards as markers in the process of her art making, and mentions the title of a fondly remembered children 's book, Les Elephants piliers du monde. While doing research to improve her "animal drawing skills" this story-book was found to be standing next to "the only book on llamas on the shelf" in the library. Do we detect here the tracks of condensation and displacement? It would appear so, when a French titled children's book concealing "elle-enfant (she-child), pillar of the world" having her photograph taken as Babar, the elephant, in his flat , green suit, appears next to one on l(l)alma(s) (la ma/ma = the mother). Particularly when the three-legged lla/ma sketched appears to be decidedly female with one teat and a fat belly, and has horizontal strokes coming from her arse. In the sketching process the lla/ma looses two legs and the teat, and the horizontal strokes become a circular spray or line of dots coming from its arse 'along the animal's back and beneath its fat belly'. This lla/ma on one leg whose long, thick neck eventually comes to resemble the trunk of an 'elle-enfant' is joined by a crushed garbage bin which doubles as a woman's pleated skirt, having served first as castellations of the Chinese Wall and a grass hut shelter. These are the jumbled signs/building blocks out of which Ooms constructs Female Llama Pissing in the Wind.
Female Llama I grows as an undulating, curvaceous, flat, elliptical white form out of/on the white wall , held by a 'skirting' of black mohair as if manacled to the floor lest it would float up as a cloud if let free. The 'object' is reminiscent of Magritte's 'clouds ', the ones he painted with words in them to indicate the empty signifier. This 'cloud' has no word, as if demonstrating that partobjects can be pleasurable, can appropriately 'informe', and can invoke the Other without phallic anxiety. The protruding thin, elliptical Female Llama II makes perhaps a similar statement. Standing on its long edge, attached by a plumber's mate jutting out from a pillar, it is entirely coated in perfumed pink face-powder, seductively inviting the touch. This unmistakable part-object posturing as a soft and fleshy body-without-organs, gestures to fetishism, alluding as it does to a flat pink trunk and to hooves as noses in the text-work. One gets the impression that the 'plumber's mate' is not a chance implement. Female Llama III turns out to be a random heap of dark-painted blocks covered in white polystyrene shavings. They gesture towards constructivism and to references to castellations in the text (castellations of the ego?), but because these blocks also look like lamingtons, they again seem to leave a trace of the absent body lost/left in childhood. As if to underline this connection, there is Female Llama IV, which was positioned at the entrance of the exhibition. An upside down crushed garbage-bin fashioned from polystyrene and covered in sand, it becomes a simulacrum for an Etruscan sandstone monument of a toga. The distinct trace of a female body is entombed in its defiant stance, perhaps sheltering under this long pleated skirt the "she-child", who is everywhere present in her absence in this exhibition.
These works carry many of 'her' signs. There is the unmistakable 'becoming animal': the elephant/ llama both 'flat/round', or 'fat/thin'. This convex/angular couple is a recurring element in the descriptions the artist employs, and forms a distinctive juxtaposition in many of her works in different spaces. The size of Ooms' art-pieces also exhibit another fascinating opposition. They resemble giant enlargements of elementary 'objects', returning the viewer to the world of a very small child, when what was most familiar was also slightly frightening in its close proximity, which could only be made small and comforting in the dolls-house (an effect achieved by the art-photography of Chris Fortescue which renders the context of these works ambiguous).
All these 'traces' of the "elle-enfant/llama/ elle-enfant" seem to be concerned with the question of the mother/daughter identification (the Body of Woman), which undergoes a playful erasure to solve the problem of the woman's/artist's presence in her work. It finds here an immensely inventive solution in the title of Female Llama Pissing in the Wind. Deconstructing this title we find that, while retaining in the artworks and text the trace of the body-of-origin by using the term 'Female Llama', this 'animal' becomes transmogrified into a body-without-organs, and undone by a spray of ... from the trunk of an 'elle-enfant'. In the vernacular, the act of 'pissing in the wind' carries the mark of 'erasure', it crosses out what has just been posited, but in this case it leaves the trace of this process of differentiation, like a cheeky "odor di femina".
Female Llama Pissing in the Wind amounts to a witty and entirely delightful collection of five imaginative works of female desire. It demonstrates that making art, as a woman, can be a powerful (political?) sign of authorising the process of putting Woman under Erasure. This is in marked contrast to forms of feminist art which self-consciously attempt to claim "Woman" for women by seeking to insist on her presence in the world. At the same time, Ooms' art cannot be mistaken for a form of well-worn postmodernism which appears to cloak itself in a 'Becoming Woman' as the mark of a fashionable pastiche of difference or marginality without penalty.
• The artist has changed her surname-an apparently arbitrary choice-from McDonald to Ooms to avoid confusion with artists of the same name.