BERLIN — “Flat and soft women who could be rolled up and stored,” inhabit Pauline Curnier Jardin’s Hot Flashes Forest. “A life would have marked them, even gave them a look, big eyes, a gutted animal life,” she says of her Peaux de Dame (Lady Skins, 2019), in which the artist pins deflated vinyl fabric to the walls of her red forest. The figures suggest the anonymous female form, easily discarded, hanging around the dimly lit gallery like clothing, a plasticized relic that simulates dehydrating meat. In her latest installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof, the French artist, who won Germany’s esteemed Preis der Nationalgalerie last fall, interrogates patriarchal credo through the lens of its unseen bodies.
Through the two-dimensional forest, where cutouts of trees form perforated curtains that spill onto the floor, Curnier Jardin projects her recent film, Qu’un Sang Impur (2019), which posits the aging female body as a source of contraband sexuality. Inspired by Jean Genet’s 1950 homoerotic Un Chant D’Amour, Curnier Jardin’s adaptation replaces Genet’s young male inmates with post-menopausal women. They masturbate in front of a disciplinary yet curious male guard, blow smoke into each other’s mouths through a crack in the wall, and run through an excessive woodland — all notes from the original Genet. Curnier Jardin flashes from the quotidian German suburbs to mock prison cells, which, unlike Genet’s sterile black and white cells, are colored by green walls, inmates clad in pearls, and bouquets of wilted flowers that the women run across their breasts and swallow whole.
In the suburbs, the artist’s subjects encounter an irreverent male youth. Locking eyes with the young butcher, the young mailman, blood runs down their pantyhose and forms hot pools on the sidewalk. Little girls in pigtails eat cake and watch them bleed. Despite their so-called liberation from the reproductive loop, Curnier Jardin’s women bleed in moments of arousal. They rub their bodies against the prison walls while the security guard watches, both a response to the male gaze and a gesture to dismantle it. A hot pink fingernail penetrates the prison peephole, feeling around in circles for an eye. Actress Eva-Maria Kurz mocks the guard via a coquettish scowl.
If Foucault’s panopticon is a societal diagram of power, Curnier Jardin’s installation is an effort to disrupt its one-directional purview. In her world, menopause is the veritable saran wrap against capitalism. It loosens the body from the confines of commodification. If one is no longer annexed as the object of desire, she may become something else. She may take off her patina suit and bleed on her slingback kitten heels without taking note. She may kiss and bite her knee, watched or unwatched, inserting a beige loafer as an eschewed dildo. In moments of the film’s peak arousal, flies buzz in the background in a rotting loop of white noise. The erotica of the older woman is not enacted without encountering fragments of its own shame.
Pauline Curnier Jardin’s installation, part of a joint exhibition with her fellow 2019 Preis der Nationalgalerie nominees, will be on view at the Hamburger Bahnhof (Invalidenstraße 50-51, 10557 Berlin) until February 15. The artist will have a solo exhibition in honor of her win, which will open this November.