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zingmagazine10 autumn 1999

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colette: olympia arrives on time to chelsea : kim foster gallery, new york, new york

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colette, poses, color photograph

As a male, aspects of Femininity always seemed fragile, weak, pretty, soft (and I’m not the epitome of a macho, middle America man). Frilly dresses and dainty perfume fit into a lexicon of items which can become the focus of disdain or attraction to the average male. However, the late ‘70s and ‘80s brought a resurgence of the Feminine in fashion, usually layered gauzy and with independent twists such as exposed bras, etc, á la Madonna, or the artist, Colette. For it is this artist in her outrageously bouncy materials and flamboyant installations starting in the late ‘60s that guttily challenged the soft idea of Feminine before it became the vogue. Colette’s art is entangled with a peculiar slant on life which she demonstrates with silk draped bathtubs, bedrooms in museums, and off-beat performances such as wearing upholstery as a uniform or, as she calls it, “walking architecture”.
Her current installation reprises three decades of performances, installations, photography and painting which investigates her identity and nature of being a Feminine hero. In most of this work we are caught in her lavish Surrealistic world of folds, glamour and self-perception. The fashion world has always been absorbed with projections of self, if only on a superficial, congratulatory manner. Colette goes deeper than this by bringing art and culture’s perception of a hero and itself into a mix of media re-examination. Often, her fantastical world becomes a substitute for reality. In photography, painting, books, fashion, and installation, her fine art always seems to be the residue of a performance. On one wall in the gallery are photos from various performances in which she portrays the main subject of a work of art, for instance, David’s death of marat, in which she has transformed the setting into an excessively billowing encasement for a tub where she lays nude, languid finger pointing. She has played Olympia, the ideal art beauty, where in a long rectangular room the viewer was confronted with Colette naked, laying on a suspended staircase, with only the sounds of water and a recording of her singing Shakespeare’s Hamlet as accompaniment. She slept in the gallery one evening during her Camille performance at the Museum of Modern Art. Often, the lazy, luxuriating side of her Femininity regains the power of a cat, seductive, resigned, innocent but with a mysterious attention. The viewer is transfixed by the stilled potency of a lavish ideal.

In the ‘90s, Colette has substituted her a mannequin-like sculpture for her own presence with the emergence of the house of olympia, a faux fashion self-examination in which her performances become like apparitions, engaged in the task of retrieving her history. In “Olympia Arrives on time to Chelsea (Missing a Finger)”, a mannequin (which incidentally looks like Colette) is swept up in a swirl of silk and scraps of fabric, surrounded by fabric covered books, records of her life, and a “living” library of videos, a computer, and herself working and living. It is as if her examination has been stilled further into the quietude of plastic or death (she has also staged her own death and resurrection as another artist). The ideal woman layed bear to an abusive environment.
In recent photographs, she is posed next to items in well known museums and other locations, for example, hovered on a pedestal next to a sphinx. One of the more gripping photographs has her draped in black gauze seated at a long table, the photographed images of famous art sit small in the plates while a number of white rectangles denote the supposed placement of the images. She brandishes a gun pointing to an unseen guest at the other end of the table. Art becomes the appetizer to digest in the presence of supposed human drama. The fantasy of art is parodied by the theatrical, as if to say that all is real and unreal including the posing of fame and daily mannerisms.
Glamour is one role of being Feminine and informed by a patriarchal society. Therefore, the definition of being Feminine must include the musings of a woman with her surroundings, a flirtation with life and the male gender. Unlike a glamourpuss like Andy Warhol, whose recycling of media images, served to fuel a scene, Colette’s posturing is self-consciously flirtatious exposing the rawness of a soul. For if there is a definition of being Feminine, it means that underneath the frills and the billowing softness is the courage to expose everything about oneself. Colette unearths herself until it is painful lending a definition to art that is beyond emotionalism, determinacy, or complacency. In certain photos of herself she is posed as if a mannequin doll with her face staring piercingly at the camera, the real self a resonance of mystery and vulnerability underneath the universal desire for attention.

Stuart Nicholson

New York, New York

1999