Review: Don’t tell Elyse Pignolet to ‘calm down.’ How one artist answers sexism with a roar
What are women who are considered too emotional often called? Hysterical. And what are they typically told to do? Be quiet. In “You Should Calm Down” at the gallery Track 16, Elyse Pignolet takes a stealthily satirical look at some core reasons for women’s rage and some entrenched strategies used to suppress it. The work is incisive and full of rightful despair, while making of whimsy a wonderfully barbed weapon.
The show’s centerpiece, an expansive wall installation (about 9 feet high and 14 feet long) built from 6-inch ceramic tiles, looks from a distance to be simply decorative, with its patterned border, extravagant floral imagery and sprightly style. But up close it proves less decorous.
The individual tiles are hand-painted in blue with words and images associated with women. There are descriptive terms, many of them disparaging: bossy, slut, floozy, moody. And there are icons of the feminine, images of items that connote domesticity, sexuality and beauty: crock pots, baby carriers, vibrators, vacuum cleaners, tampons, tweezers. Sprinkled throughout are symbols of empowerment: a raised fist, the words “Me Too.”
Within the ornamental scheme, Pignolet integrates tired sexist tropes and choice phrases from the news to expose the ways in which language can be a form of sexual violence that denigrates, victimizes and shames. Trump’s infamous quote about grabbing women by the genitals is ugly as ever in this subversively beautiful setting.
All the works in this engrossing show ally charm and charge. In a pair of ceramic plates, hung side by side, the L.A.-based Pignolet wittily demarcates what little space is allotted for women’s voices between the command of “Shhh” and the criticism “Shrill.”
On one tall, tapered rectangular vase, Pignolet alternates foliate ornamentation with extracts from the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Ford’s opening words, “I am here today not because I want to be,” appear also near the top of the tile mural, instantly casting all below as testimony to the damaging skew and slant of female stereotypes.
Pignolet’s title for the mural, “I Am a Woman,” strikes a telling tone, part declaration of dignity (echoing the “I Am a Man” signs of striking African American sanitation workers in 1968 Memphis), and part spirited shout, a la “I Am Woman,” Helen Reddy’s 1971 anthem of empowerment. This show may look tame and lovely, but it roars.
Where: Track 16, 1206 Maple Ave., #1005, L.A.
When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, through Nov. 2.
Info: (310) 815-8080, track16.com
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