gauteng reviews

Till death us do part

Frances Goodman at Goodman Gallery

By Matthew Partridge
09 April - 07 May. 0 Comment(s)
Till Death Us Do Part

Frances Goodman
Till Death Us Do Part, 2011. exhibition invitation .

I worship you, but I loathe marriage. I hate its smugness, its safety, its compromise and the thought of you interfering with my work, hindering me; what would you answer?

All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are sides, and it is necessary for one side to beat another side.

-    Virginia Woolf

The Goodman Gallery on Jan Smuts Road, Johannesburg, is a stately venue for a wedding reception. Its hollowed, white cube halls seem naturally suited to the jubilant chatter and feverish celebration associated with such events, with champagne the logical drink to fuel the party.

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‘Till Death Us Do Part’, Frances Goodman’s recent solo show, employed this tactic as the opening saw the space packed to capacity, with gallery goers taking on the character of wedding revellers, some even arriving in wedding dresses and suits. Yet this was no ordinary reception. Rather, beneath its façade of such pageantry this exhibition is a self-reflexive interrogation of the modern institution of marriage where the designation of property belies the romance of such a nuptial union

What this exhibition explores is the aspirational aspect of our society’s fixation with marriage as a legitimizing act that secures a place in the natural cycle of a patriarchal order. Walking into the gallery one is immediately greeted by a tent-like structure of embroidered silk, lace and satin. Titled The Dream, the work also features a sound component that echoes the phrases sewn on the surface of the various panels of the installation.

Operating as individual works constituting the installation, the intricately sewn statements represent the disparate attitudes of woman to marriage. With titles ranging from ‘I’ve always seen marriage as something that forces woman to be subservient in one way or another’ and ‘I got warnings that I shouldn’t get married before I got hints that I should get married’ to the more macabre ‘I think that every girl living on her own is lonely’ and ‘The more money the more fabulous the wedding’, the works reveal the physic sublimation of marriage in a socio-political and economic context.

As Goodman reveals, she did not intend for the work to focus on a cultural or religious perspective of marriage; rather, she sought to show how the wedding ceremony becomes for many of her interview pool speaking on the sound loop, an end point of a journey rather than a marker of entry into a symbolic order where a woman’s role is fulfilled by becoming a wife.

Speaking of the overall affect of the installation, Goodman describes it as an aesthetic of the grotesque that is typically over the top. The tented explosion of the ruffled bridal fabric lends a fairytale sense of wonder that is nevertheless uncomfortably tinged by the abject reality of frequent disappointment and disillusionment.

In a somewhat different tone to the jaded whimsy of The Dream is Goodman’s series of car bonnets, featuring slogans riveted on their surfaces such as ‘Hope the pussy was worth it!’, ‘I’m the one that got away’ and, after the title of the show, ‘Till death us do part’. Speaking of the development of these works Goodman relates how, during a residency in Bern, she was taught the technique by the technician at the Kunstmuseum where The Dream was originally commissioned.

Here, the slogans of these works allude to a different kind of agency ironically and aggressively expressed through the act of disrupting the pristine surfaces of the bonnets, themselves measures of status and commodity. Sourcing raw ‘pirate bonnets’ for very particular and recognisable models of cars, a VW Golf GTI, an Audi and a BMW, Goodman then acquired the signature colour paint for each model and had them professionally sprayed.

As the surfaces dazzle under the colourful pop rivets, the works conjure the notion of a woman scorned and taking her revenge. True to this, Goodman says that the inspiration for ‘Hope the pussy was worth it!’ came from a viral image of a car that had been spray-painted with the same text by an angry lover. Here the disparity of the material fallout from marriage emerges as an ironic gesture that betrays the marital vow of ‘Till death us do part’.

Continuing through the exhibition from this work one walks into an installation of piled confetti cumulatively amounting to one hundred kilograms. Custom-made for the show, each piece of die-cut confetti reads ‘Forever’, whilst a song of the same title by Siouxsie and the Banshees plays in the background. The lyrics of the song, ‘but we couldn't stay together, I knew this wouldn't last forever’, seemingly speaking against the gesture towards the romantic infinite made by the confetti.

This morbid ambiguity of excess and loss leads into another series titled ‘Married to’ which consists of beads, sequins and diamantes individually woven onto a fine surface of a gauze-like substance called organza. Floating behind glass in boxed frames the pieces, each taking between two and three weeks to complete, are inspired by the shapes of the bodices of wedding dresses that, upon closer inspection, reveal intricate icons and objects related to the subservient role and commodification upon which the rest of the show hinges.

In the work ‘Married to: Social Networking’ symbols of Twitter, Skype and Facebook are decoratively combined whilst, in other examples such as ‘Married to: Sex’ a nude female form makes up the erotically charged image, alluding to the demarcated space for woman within the institution of marriage. In ‘Married to: Football’ teams crests such as FC Barcelona, Liverpool and Pirates are intricately and painstakingly embroidered onto the surface. What these works effectively critique the hetero-normative standards of what a marriage represents, directly representing the accoutrements that a woman is to aspire to, and metaphorically ‘wear’ through the course of her union.

Whilst the show can be read as indictment on marriage, Goodman was nevertheless reluctant for it to be viewed in such a reductive manner. Under the veil of pageantry the exhibition can rather be seen as a meditation of marriage’s position in a society dictated by the capitalist drives of consumption, where a once holy union has withered into an agreement of property that ratifies ownership over an expression of love. Perhaps Goodman’s final words are most telling; ‘never say forever, and never say never’.