Justine is Tricia Middleton‘s first show at Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran. It displays many of the things that have become her hallmarks: heaps of building materials, toys, fabrics, paint cans and candles covered predominately with pink and blue pastels and piles of wax. Like her last show at AXENÉO7, Justine has turned away from the creation of small habitats to fill the space of the gallery with disparate piles. From the looks of it, a few of those piles may even have made their way into this show, shoved along the wall in a back room.
The show spans three spaces – the main gallery, anteroom and small hall. The primary space is dominated by four large figures. Bulky, they resemble a defaced costume exhibit from the Victoria and Albert Museum or maybe someone’s really bad idea of what a burka fashion show would look like. Either would be appropriate for a show whose basic theme is the attempt, and brutally hilarious failure, of the virtuous subject to triumph over the auto-destructive powers of nature, or the failure of the power of what is apparently a natural given to triumph over the power of artifice. What may have been simple objects of everyday experience are clouded over and coagulated by the crystallization of artificial reterritorializations. Each object spawns a collection. The collections include body fragments (some Dollarama Halloween variety, some sculpted like a lousy teen art student, some casts of body parts set against photos of body fragments); a deflated balloon beside a photo of its now expired oxygenated state (amidst all this clay, this could be read as a joke about Creation); cigarettes and photos of ash stained sheets; crystals and obnoxious plastic looking jewels; pink toilet paper; large collections of gewgaws including various dogs, horses, putti, dinosaurs and ballerinas.
Most of this seems to be a self-deprecating homage to the life of the artist. Likewise, one gets a sense of satirical jabs at her fellow so-called neo-Baroque brethren. Unlike them, however, she is far closer to the Rococo (and, for that matter, Tetsumi Kudo) with its collapse of interior and exterior as it melded the garden and parlour into interchangeable spaces, as it made the bedroom and the garden corner one. The collapse of these categories of space and use are best summarized in her persistent turn to tree branches, almost inevitably coated in pastels, though rarely totally, which suggests the primacy of an artifice that brooks no distinction between nature and culture. In other words, it’s Hobbesian or Sadean rather that Rousseauist.
Middleton has long flirted with the Rococo. Though her work has often resembled one of Mme. de Pompadour’s salons left to putrefaction, her flirtation with the period’s black prince, the Marquis de Sade, has never been so apparent. However, Justine, unlike her wicked sister Juliette, was never much of an aesthete. One can scarcely forget the passage in L’histoire de Juliette where the eponymous heroine discusses the wonders of wax models and their capacity to relate the lusciousness of decay. But this decay is transformed into something strange in Middleton. From the foams and plastics she uses, to the even sheen of pastel that she ices her various heaps of debris with, there is a sense of something inorganic, suspended in a type of time that is not that of human duration. They are ruins designed as ruins, not to show their chronic quality and function as the expiators of vanity, but to diminish the pathos of a memento mori, to show that even a human skull is too precious to be taken seriously as a reminder of death. This may be why the exhibit is graced with several pastel spattered skulls, clunkily made with all the care for mortality of an 8 year old.
The show also contains less text elements than Middleton’s past few shows. Two placards are propped up on the floor on a sheet of objects. One reads:
I CHOOSE FANTASY/ I CHOOSE DARKNESS/ I CHOOSE TO DIE AS A WAY OF LIVING/ ONE FOOT INFRONT OF THE OTHER/ DEATH DEATH DEATH
Painted out, the final ‘death’ resembles ‘peath’, that ignominious tattoo that you received when you tried to show how goth you could be but were too stupid to have your flesh mutilated properly, leaving you condemned to wear your basic incompetence at life forever like a giant ‘L’ carved into the middle of your forehead. In a way, this also summarizes one of the lessons that Sade proposed in Justine, namely that virtue wears its stupidity with an obnoxious certitude of its value, regardless of how perpetually all the evidence runs to the contrary.