Critics’ Picks

Mary Beth Edelson, Proposals for: Memorials to 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era, 1977, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Mary Beth Edelson, Proposals for: Memorials to 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era, 1977, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Quimper

“L’Heure des sorcières”

Le Quartier, centre d’art contemporain de Quimper
10 esplanade François Mitterrand
February 1–May 18, 2014

Spread throughout four rooms, this thematic group exhibition takes as its starting point Breton myths and legends as portrayed by nineteenth-century French artists in works borrowed from the local Musée des Beaux Arts. Drawing on traditional basket-weaving techniques, ethnographic approaches, and oral histories, Paris-based artist Marie Preston’s sculpture piece Barque sorcière (Witch Boat), 2014, and accompanying fictional dialogue involving four characters—a druidess, a painter, a widow, and a washerwoman—specifically address the lore of female seaweed harvesters on the nearby Île de Sein and in particular the witch-boat legend about a mysterious woman who would go out to sea at night in a wicker basket used to collect seaweed.

Mixing painting, sculpture, video, photography, installation, textile- and text-based pieces, “L’Heure des sorcières” (The Witching Hour) places works by contemporary French and British artists in dialogue with such iconic pieces as Mary Wigman’s 1926 Witch Dance, here reinterpreted by choreographer Latifa Laâbissi, who sees the original’s expressionism as “a form of savagery both assumed and contained.” Ana Mendieta’s photographs from the “Silhuetas” series, date, are presented alongside three videos—among them is Untitled (Chicken Piece), 1972, in which the artist holds a freshly decapitated, blood-spewing white hen to her body—and a faithful reconstruction, complete with a fire ladder occasionally set aflame, of Mary Beth Edelson’s 1977 installation Proposals for: Memorials to 9,000,000 Women Burned as Witches in the Christian Era, which was originally presented at A.I.R. gallery in New York.

Witches, fairies, and earth goddesses are only ostensibly the subject matter of this wide-ranging show curated by Anna Colin, who has been researching the topic for a number of years. Repugnant and fascinating in equal measure, the reclusive figure of the witch has been eagerly seized upon by feminists, queer activists, and proponents of alternative living (Radical Faeries, Wiccans, and the like), who see her as a potent symbol of their own struggles and aspirations. Ultimately, “L’Heure des sorcières” has perhaps more to tell us about them than about those they claim as their “sisters.”