Mona Ryder (detail)
Mona Ryder is a twenty first century Surrealist. Of course, she doesn’t see herself that way, at least not consciously. But Surrealism never was about the conscious mind: the socially constrained and rigorously monitored thoughts of everyday reality. In Surrealism, too much is never enough, it’s the wild and illicit thrill of more, more, more. It is literally about going up and over the top, above the real. Surrealism is the delicious and cloying excess of surfeit, the conquering urge of surmount, the competitive spirit of surpass. Surrealism soars above, but it also delves under; it deliberately probes beneath the real to the realm of the unconscious, a world ruled by the capriciousness of chance, fear and dreams.
The Surrealist legacy that Ryder taps into is perfectly embodied by Meret Oppenheim’s 1936, Object (Luncheon in Fur). Art critic Robert Hughes describes this fur covered teacup, saucer and spoon as, “the most intense and abrupt image of Lesbian sex in the history of art.”1 And he’s right. But only half right; cunnilingus isn’t a girls only club, men can play too…if they ask nicely. The real point is that Oppenheim’s Object has brilliantly withstood the test of time. More than seventy years later it still elicits a cheeky erotic tingle (or a moue of distaste, depending on your predilections). Perhaps more significantly, with this simple sculpture, Oppenheim trumped all the efforts of her predominantly male and often misogynistic Surrealist compatriots. Using the domestic, a sometimes stifling, always feminine milieu, Oppenheim beat the boys at their own game.
Ryder carries on this tradition. She practices a cunning and feisty old school feminism which feeds off dreams, nightmares and corporeal desires in equal measures. Ryder will neither deny, nor be confined by, her feminine roles as a wife, mother and now grandmother. For more than two decades she has been channelling her passions and frustrations into artworks that interrogate gender stereotypes and challenge the male dominated status quo. And like Oppenheim, Ryder has the almost alchemical ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. She turns everyday materials and domestic objects into titillating, powerful sculptures that ooze a flagrant feminine sexuality, toy with taboos and teeter on the edge of abjection.
In Barcelona Two Step, Ryder melds the rich, visceral iconography of Catholicism with a raw, post-apocalyptic tribal aesthetic. She uses crutches, faux fur, real hair, shattered records, shoes, stockings, broken furniture and other psychologically loaded found materials to create mysterious objects that conjure up sexually charged, ambiguous rituals. Ryder’s shoe pieces, especially, could be fetishes in both the pre and post Freudian sense of the word.
Freud associated the fetish with a disavowal and compensation for difference. For him, a fixation on shoes is a reaction to fear of castration brought on by witnessing the mother’s lack (her missing penis) and a pair of stilettos, handy at the scene, become cathected with libido. Ryder’s shoes are fetishistic for precisely the opposite reason. They represent exactly what they stand in for.
Placed together, heel to heel and toe to toe, Ryder’s shoes form an enticing void that overtly mimics distinctly female organs. Some sprout hairs, others trail long skeins of red fabric, one is penetrated by a plastic snake: they are sexy but not subtle, fetishes in the primary sense of the word. Like ritual objects from a matriarchal cargo-cult, they invite fantasy, devotion and worship.
Freud’s obsession with the unconscious, coupled with his anxious and sexist ideas about sex made him a darling of the Surrealists. In Barcelona Two Step, Mona Ryder drags him out, slaps him around a bit, then milks him for all he’s worth.
*High resolution images are available if required, please contact the Director Caroline Wales using the contact details below.
Horus & Deloris | Contemporary Art Space | Copyright © 2006