In her work the artist reflects critically on gender roles and visual clichés using images, films, objects, collages and various modes of display. She makes use of her own photographs, but mostly works with already existing, appropriated images, which she rearranges, adds text to or creates videos with. The resulting new and ambiguous contexts give insights into past decades and different forms of representation from a feminist perspective, analyse the visual construction of desire or uncover allegedly emancipatory advertising slogans. In doing so she always leaves room for various, even contradictory interpretations, leaving the observer in suspense.
Artist(s) Marge Monko
Venue Gallery Russi Klenner, Berlin
All images Courtesy by the artist and Galerie Russi Klenner
The terms “display” and „desire“ play a central role in her work. What is the intention behind showing, presenting or exhibiting something in a certain way and what kind of desires are generated hereby? In the current exhibition she examines in particular product advertising of the 20th and 21st century. Ads for wrist watches, images of stockings and tights as well as the myths created around diamonds receive new interpretations here.
In her work Untitled Photograms, the artist takes packages of stockings with a cut out shape of a leg, places them on photo paper and exposes them. The results are photograms with a graphic-aesthetic appearance, whose opaque surface strongly contrasts the content of the package not visible to the observer – the transparent tights, the female attribute per se. Or could it be that they rather remind us of the semi-opaque tights that were produced in Eastern Europe? That way, the artist evokes different narratives – the perfect tights as objects of desire, which perhaps has not always been available to all. They are desired to be transparent, with a velvet touch, as the work Flawless Seamless on the window of the gallery insinuates. But even flawless and seamless tights, as claimed in the advertisements, are not forever and can be torn.
Tights are a recurring motif in Monko’s work. In Calze e Collant she presents Plexiglas legs of different colours and attaches to them texts that recount certain episodes in history in connection to the hosiery of specific colour and linked to women’s emancipation. The blue stockings, for example, tell the story of a literary salon, founded by Elizabeth Carter and other intellectual women in the middle of the 18th century in England under the name “The Blue Stockings Society”.
In the series Ten Past Ten eventually hands are in focus. Advertisements of women’s and men’s wrist watches, acquired through Ebay, are cropped, enlarged and folded by the artist. In the centre of the images there are women’s and men’s hands, surrounded by small details such as sleeve-ends, gloves or coloured nails and – all the watches are set at ten past ten. These carefully composed scenes refer to different stories beyond the image. To whom do the hands belong, what is the relationship of the people behind the scene? Even here, the gender question can be raised – the female hand usually rests on the man’s hand.
The hand is also featured in the self-portrait “I Don’t Eat Flowers” from 2009, showing the artist in a militant pose with a clenched fist reminiscent of the aesthetics of socialist realism. It is in fact the re-enactment of a poster of the US-American J. Howard Miller with the slogan “We can do it” whose aim was to encourage women to work in the arms industry in the 1940s. In the 1980s, it was used by different feminist groups in campaigns to enhance the self-confidence of women. The title of the work refers to the tradition on International Women’s Day to give women flowers as presents. The artist obviously does not want to be fobbed off with flowers, not only out of feminist pride, but also with a reference to the difficult economic situation of women since the economic crisis in 2008 and even before. She once more manages to interweave historic, political and aesthetic contexts, allowing for new interpretations.
The neon letters “Women of the World, Raise Your Right Hand”, placed on the wall in the back of the gallery would also go well with the aforementioned clinched fist. However, it is not a call for a (feminist) revolution, but an appropriation of the advertisement slogan of the diamond company De Beers. In the video next to it the artist – using the example of De Beers – examines the history of diamonds, the changes its marketing has undergone over the decades and how it adapted to social changes. Being initially a glamorous attribute of the beautiful and the rich of Hollywood, the concept of the diamond as an engagement ring was implemented among the wider public in U.S. after World War II. In 2003, in reaction to the increase of income of working women the company launched a huge campaign for the right-hand diamond ring, which financially independent women could buy for themselves. The voice-over text of the video contextualizes and interprets the campaign, analyses the interaction of images and slogans, and consults Siri, the intelligent assistant, on the significance of diamonds.
Once again, no clear message is conveyed, and the observer is confronted with ambiguity. In this work as well as in her other works it does become clear that the artist always likes to play with the narratives, encouraging us again and again to question our perception of things and of ourselves. Does the video work stand for a criticism of capitalism from the feminist point of view or should it be seen as a confirmation that also advertising industry contributes to women’s emancipation? We could ask Siri…
Read more about Marge Monko in Tique #3: Six Questions.