Critics’ Picks

Mai-Thu Perret, With an unbounded force (yellow witch), 2020, glazed ceramic, 9 7/8 × 7 1/2 × 3 1/2''.

Mai-Thu Perret, With an unbounded force (yellow witch), 2020, glazed ceramic, 9 7/8 × 7 1/2 × 3 1/2''.


Mai-Thu Perret

Galerie Francesca Pia
Limmatstrasse 268
June 20–August 29, 2020

Mai-Thu Perret’s shift from literature to art was initiated by the discovery, or rather the invention, of The Crystal Frontier, a fictional utopian community of women in the New Mexico desert. Many of her works are “authored” by members of this break-away society, or are about her imagined experiences there. This distancing gesture liberates the artist from the egoism of authorial creativity, making her an instrument in a predetermined system. At the same time, her research has spiraled out to include more documented feminist history, such as Silvia Federici’s reflections on witchcraft and modernity.

Perret’s current exhibition is titled after her 2020 series “with an unbounded force,” consisting of glazed ceramics inspired by the carnival masks of Cologne. Chief amongst them feature the faces of witches, but also their familiars, such as a blue donkey, a yellow frog and cat, and a brown goat, owl, and cat, all outfitted with holes for eyes. Although too heavy and fragile to be worn, the masks carry a memory of animation and a disquieting sentience. Similar masks, mass produced in molded plastic, are sold in novelty and fancy-dress shops in the weeks before the city’s famous celebration. Here, Perret’s reenchantment of the mask reverses the normal metabolism of myth that takes the most charged symbols and mechanically turns them into kitsch. When meticulously rendered in fired ceramics, they regain the menace and aura of their medieval forbears, emerging from the gallery wall like gargoyles that have penetrated the white cube from another dimension.