Three Moral Tales. Ana Jotta, Joëlle de La Casinière & Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
Curator François Piron
The moral tale is a literary genre that was especially popular in Europe throughout the 18th century. As ways of being and doing were strongly tied to conventions assigned to social roles and genres, the rise of rationality and freethought, characteristic of this era, began re-organizing the so-called “natural order” of established patterns. Through fables and satires, moral tales expressed sharp critical views on the social relationships and hierarchies of the time, often using radical irony and cruelty, as in the tales of Jonathan Swift or of the Marquis de Sade, to decipher the untold rules at play in this early age of capitalism.
The works of the three artists invited to these Three Moral Tales are not that of moralists, but somehow assume a kind of moral dimension, as they present themselves as critical allegories. Joëlle de La Casinière, Ana Jotta and Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven make use of fables and sometimes caricatures to observe and criticize the cruelty of human relationships. The “moral tales” narrated by these three artists scrutinize representations of evil, and mock hierarchies, traditions and social order. By doing so, they also follow up on a certain spirit of the iconoclastic avant-gardes of the early 20th century.
French artist Joëlle de la Casinière, Portuguese Ana Jotta and Flemish Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven have in common to pay no fealty to trends of contemporary art. Moreover, they fought unwaveringly throughout their respective careers the need to see their work being given an “official line”. Instead, they stood aside, went underground or remained indifferent to the twists and turns of the art market and institutions. They sometimes created surrogate characters, hid, or playfully modified their names to react to the branding of identity in the artworld, and to the imposed marginalization that they had to cope with as women artists, as did artists living in peripheral geographies. In a way, paradoxically, being marginalized encouraged a calculated versatility of media and styles, and the invention of an idiosyncratic vocabulary, while total freedom remained their one and only rule.
In the work of Ana Jotta, the animal figure is a constant reference. Besides making allusions to cartoon characters, outsider art or childbook illustrations, and generally to cultural fields considered minor ones, these animal characters refer to fables, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Antiquity to the fairytales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, where anthropomorphism and animality mingle into fantastic figures. Ana Jotta’s paintings, such as her elegant portrait of Mademoiselle Rivière after Ingres, who shows the face of a cute mouse, is both irreverent and enlightening. It speaks of our relationship to the processes of identification and empathy, and confronts the self-evidency of so-called classical culture, turning it into Kitsch. There is only a small step from the use of the animal figure to the practice of caricature, which is also used by Jotta in her paintings, drawings and installations, following the legacy of the avant-gardes of the early 20th century. As in the drawings of Grandville or George Grosz, social roles appear in their crudity: the capitalist and his hard hat, the priest and his black gown, the communist biting his knife, the starving beggar. Caricatures were and still are a very efficient way to not only distort reality but even more to show how “reality” is in and by itself twisted.
Her recent work Ana e eu (Ana and me) from 2018, is an installation of suspended painted discs of cardboard, on which she paints scenes and details from George Herriman’s character Krazy Kat: a world of absurd violence, in which the humanized animals are constantly submitted to forces they cannot fight with, whether gravity, chaos or the police.
Joëlle de La Casinière has been working during the past four decades in a absolute independent way, at the crossroads between the fields of poetry, cinema and the visual arts. Her art is very much defined by her way of life: nomadic for a long time, she has lived and worked with like-minded friends who never defined themselves as artists or poets, or at least who had no intention whatsoever in making a career out of their work. Together, they established from the early 1970s the commune of the Montfaucon Research Center, a mock-up institution in a house in Brussels, which is still operating today, and continues to publish books, and to produce films and videos.
The exhibition Three Moral Tales is the largest presentation to date of Joëlle de La Casinière’s work, focusing on her Tablotins, an impressive body of work spanning four decades. Initially drawn and written as letters sent to friends and relatives, these collages gather notations, handwritten and typed poems merging with drawings and cut-out images. Most refer to ancient miniature paintings and medieval illuminated manuscripts. They are irregular diary notes, or inconsistent travelogues, and as in the 18th century epistolary novel The Persian Letters, they comment on their surrounding world through wonder and criticality.
In addition to the presentation of about a hundred and fifty of these collages, the exhibition will include a recently achieved video work, for which the artist has submitted her collages to friends, and recorded them reading or even singing their contents. She and her partner, the music composer Jacques Lederlin, have then added layers of sound and music to it, producing an environment conducive to attention and meditation.
Emerging in the mid-1970s, the work of Flemish artist Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven has been coincidental with the rise of the punk movement, to which she has stayed faithful, in her own way, until today. From the punk aesthetics, she kept the notion of collage, as a way to organize and harshly juxtapose conflicting images. As a pioneer of industrial noise music with her band Club Moral (together with her partner Danny Devos), she also maintained a will to challenge the audience with intense sensorial and intellectual stimulation. Driven by a radical feminist ethos, she has consistently emphasized the representation of women and their empowerment against the alienating male gaze.
Van Kerckhoven’s work is one of interest for many diverse disciplines. She has collaborated with cognitive scientists, choreographers and theologians, to only give a few. It is a political work that challenges social and moral conventions through direct and sometimes provocative representations of the cruelty of human relationships. The exhibition will foreground, among Van Kerckhoven’s prolific production spanning four decades, the representation of evil in her work and its relationship to power. It will act as a survey of sorts of her practice, starting with drawings and paintings from the early 1980s until recent digital collages and a large documentation of the many publications and printed matter she has produced until now.
A publication, designed by Bureau Roman Seban, will accompany the exhibition. It will function as an index, focusing on one single, previously unpublished, body of work of each of the artists.