Love and Anarchy
Galerie Hugues Charbonneau
November 11, 2017- December 20, 2017
In this, Cynthia Girard-Renard’s second solo exhibition at Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, the work was inspired by the film of the same title, Love and Anarchy by Lina Wertmüller. Large acrylic paintings in dirt brown, green and bright pink, they are fashioned in an old cartoon style. The background consists of prints from the bark of trees and the faces of the figures derive from the artist’s own butt prints in gouache forming the mask-like heads of the characters. We are called to remember Carolee Schleeman’s body prints, the sex-positive and earth-oriented work of Annie Sprinkle and the erotic, female-centric art of Dorothy Iannone. Girard-Renard’s paintings draw us into the sexy and amusing interplay of mother earth, performers and nurse characters with authority figures, perhaps being treated for their fascism and misogyny. We are also presented with the artist’s oft-present wordplay, as well as playful forays into subversive sexuality, history and politics.
While Girard-Renard seems to believe that love is anarchy and that sexuality has the power to overturn corrupt patriarchal power structures, Wertmüller has a more circuitous attitude. In Love and Anarchy, the hero is an innocent farm boy drawn into a plot to assassinate Mussolini. The drama is largely situated in an Italian brothel, and the hero is aided by an anarchist prostitute. Complicating matters, he falls in love with another prostitute, leaving him torturously torn between passionate, blissful life and a frightful, violent death. Her film raises questions about love, violence, and power while presenting problems with anarchy and revolution. Is personal love a wrench in the gears of anarchy? Is love is the opiate of the masses? Is resistance truly futile, yet heroic, foolish efforts must be made anyway? Is love is the opposite of fascism? We are reminded of the inevitability of love and death, and of the tenuous, but precious nature of freedom. The film raises questions but doesn’t give clear answers, as is the way with good films. Although it received criticism from many feminists of the time for how women were portrayed as prostitutes, in hindsight we can now see that there is also an anarchic side to prostitution, and the film can be seen in this light. Prostitution falls outside of tradition and marriage, and it is outside of love but comes from a place of seeking connection and intimacy. The female leads—prostitutes all—in this film were loving, human characters with real passions and struggles of their own, well-rounded characters.
At the end of the film, the quote from Errico Malatesta appears: “I wish to repeat my horror at attacks, which besides being bad, are in and of themselves stupid because they harm the very cause they are trying to serve. But those assassins are also saints and heroes, and they will be celebrated once the brutal facts are forgotten, and all that is remembered is the idea that inspired them and the martyrdom that made them saints.” Thus, Wertmüller implies that violence isn’t the best method whereby fascism may be ended. Then what is? Cynthia Girard-Renard’s reply conveyed through this series, is that love is, sexuality is, the rise of the feminine principle and celebration of the body and the earth are the answer. The paintings in the artist’s series focus on earthy browns, vivid green and luscious pinks, reminiscent of the earth and tender places of flesh. In C’est la fin de la monde, Mother Earth reclines, reading the French translation of Fifty Shades of Gray. The eye is kept busy with the textures of the tree rubbings in the background contrasting in colour from the viridian green of the snakeskin figures dancing above her. We see figures giving way to abandon, with the reflection of a factory smokestack in the eye of one character, and a mushroom cloud, an atomic bomb, perhaps, girded by a horizon made of hearts. Do we make love while the earth burns down? It seems to say, “this horror exists, yet we do too, and we go on loving.”
Pesistons ensemble et unis features police whose power is subverted as their forms are made humourous. One officer, face bearing Girard-Renard’s bum print as ever, is wearing a cheetah print thong and fishnets, and his feet terminate in ice cream cones. The other officer has limbs made from tree limbs, so his body rhymes with the dark background. They’re goofy, playful, ridiculous. Their power is taken away and they are made into figures of fun.
Infirmière activism shows a nurse wearing a strange net outfit paired with a strap-on, partnered with a patient wearing nothing but boxers and argyle socks. Psilocybin mushrooms are tucked away into the corner, and the figures themselves are repeated in miniature to the left of the canvas. The atmosphere is one of the dopey intoxication of pleasure. A balm for a sick world. In Triolet antifasciste, prints make two of the trio’s heads into pumpkin-like forms, one figure of which bears penises instead of fingers. Above, the birds say: les fascists sont partis ouf. These antifascists seem to be performers, their outsized shoes are transparent and one figure’s outfit is striped and animated by the face of a living animal. The female figure in pink has exposed breasts and vagina and embraces Mr. Penishands. She has arms made of foliage, again harkening to the idea of woman as connected to nature and pleasure.
Another pumpkin-headed figure appears in Viva la vagina, this time a woman who emits a pink cloud from between her legs which says “good spirit” while dancing with a Medusa-like figure that is standing in its head, with the words Viva la Vagina written across the chest. In a canvas also adorned with condoms and candy, we can read at various points, fou good spirit, j’ai bonne nouvelles, viva la vagina and “resistance against the regulation of our bodies”. This one seems to be about pure joy and celebration. Finally, Plaisir fétichiste d’une militante antifasciste consists of a foot-licking male figure sitting on the floor, orange penis engorged, as he reveres the elephant-faced pink female figure. He is snail-footed, and hearts emanate from his groin. The woman says “no place for hate”.
Cynthia Girard-Renard’s work is often highly political, insightfully historical, but always filled with love, playfulness, and humour. She never lectures or condemns or brings us down, quite the contrary. Her series Love and Anarchy takes inspiration from a classic film and gives it her own take, one filled with hope, that love and sex can be anarchic forces capable of enacting change through personal relationships. We are reminded of the absurdity of focusing on personal issues while the world is burning down, but also how life goes on, no matter what happens in the political sphere. We may as well take what happiness we can where we can find it. And perhaps that can still make the world a better place, in the small motions of joy.