– Stone discoveries, female perspectives – 1998
published in “de passage monique thomaes” vice versa verlag berlin 1998
translation by John Epstein
femmes / messages
Over the past centuries, sculptures of woman have presented a special challenge to observers insofar that these sculptures have represented male conceptions of womankind – of femmes – from previous times. What they did achieve was to place our conception of the female in a monument, in art, and in the history of civilization. If a sculpture was as successful as Schadow’s marble group which depicted princesses Luise and Friederike of Prussia and which, in its premonition of the grace and naturalness of these two young women, was far ahead of its time (1797) by virtue of its expressive possibilities, it was rigorously withheld from public view. Only at the close of the 19th century was this sculpture again made accessible on a limited basis to the public.
For Monique Thomaes one of the woman sculptures, which for centuries long were completely exposed to our view and thereby helped in molding our idea of that which is “eternally female”, stood as a “model”. It was not a representation of women pénible, arduously working in the fields that was immortalized; nor was it that of women patiente, patiently raising those generations of children that created our visual concept of women in the history of civilization. With the photograph of a plaster cast, which was shot in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, does Thomaes present us with a detailed, sectioned woman’s image which is at times nebulous, at times shadowy, and at times sharply focused, yet which has become fixed in history and stone.
The face of femme, framed in by thousands of tiny Shirly Temple locks, has an expression difficult to describe: capricieuse, obstinate, joueuse, mischievous, jolie, cute, naïve, artless or a little stupide, dumb. This face is enlarged and reduced; as a fog-like transparency it is projected upon the wall where, with each following image, it becomes shaper, slowly, very slowly until those traits finally become recognizable. We meet this face on meter long photo prints which in a seemingly endless row fit into a grid running from initially brightly glittering to dark shadowing – and so it begins to live.
The illustration is extirpated from its stiffness and assumes a liveliness which impels the observer to carefully look. Is this the same face? For purposes of recognition it offers certain qualities, certain movements, certain moments which up to now the sculpture had never revealed. The stiffness of the centuries gives way to a vulnerability and softness of which the shadowing and reflections permit the discovery of an endless depth of being. This diversity of images, to which is added the play of French adjectives whose feminine endings are, in contrast to German, unmistakable, go on to round out the poetry of this female sculpture, allowing it to appear, into infinity, full of fantasy. Through the refractions, shadowing, and repetitions in a centuries-old object, the myth of the female receives a new dimension of recognition.
If Monique Thomaes faces the challenge of her own observations, then in the first place she is playing with the materials available to her. Disrespectful of interpretations or of expert testimonies which have been handed down to her, she is successful in bringing into the light of public knowledge that information which has first been filtered through her perspective and then, by means of her discoveries, finally revealed to the observer. With an infinite tenderness, she dissects body parts, facial sections, and series of movements, enlarging these to the point of unrecognizableness in order to direct our attention to that which is essential for her: the miracle of the human, the female life.