Los Angeles

Zizi Raymond

Dorothy Goldeen Gallery

Zizi Raymond’s newest collection of “sculptural” works orchestrates a chorus of female voices chanting their disenfranchisement. Together, Raymond’s “sculptures”—typified by a pair of girl’s undies, the crotch shot through with a menacing cluster of pins—proclaim the negativity or absence of the feminine. The female body, which can’t “exist” except as an object of exchange, is rendered metonymically through female clothing: a deep-green taffeta evening dress, a virginal little girl’s dress with white ruffles and pin-dots, a satin wedding gown, a Girl Scout uniform, a slip. So whimsically begun, the pieces veer toward the menacing with the calculated addition of shredding, perforating, or otherwise violating tools—pins, skewers, a lawnmower. Each ensemble is choreographed to reflect the bruising and oppressive narratives of patriarchal culture.

The clothing is a necessary stand-in for the brutalized female body: cloth becomes tortured, ripped, pierced, and contained “flesh.” As a feminist artist who wishes to refashion existing models of female subjectivity without participating in the seemingly inexorable representation of women as objects of male desire, Raymond chooses to evacuate her sculptures of corporeal presence. With no bodies underneath, these works explicitly mark gender as culturally constructed, though for Raymond femininity seems inevitably to imply victimization. She works to activate female subjectivity via her own productive role, literally re-presenting the violent domination of women through the defilement of their clothing. In pieces such as Pipe Dreams, 1991, where a slip billows from a Magrittean pipe, she plays out the Freudian construction of women as symptoms of male fantasy, exposing rather than destroying or overturning the tortuous psychodynamics of femininity under patriarchy.

The abused articles of clothing—all hyperfeminized or otherwise marked as female (like the Girl Scout uniform)—produce female “subjects” who participate in theatrical scenarios of male desire, obedient analysands who acquiesce in their own domination. What appear to be metal skewers stuck through wads of guncotton seemingly pierce the bodice of the taffeta dress, as if to fatally ravish the (absent) internal organs in an orgy of mutilation. The gorgeous, vintage satin wedding gown is pinned helplessly in the vise grip of a leather suitcase, its enormous train ceremoniously spewing onto the floor like a huge milk stain. Malevolently literalizing the traditional association of the feminine with nature, Raymond slices a delicate, translucent girl’s dress into strips and weaves them into an enormous photomural of a cheesy tourist landscape (a simulacrum of nature, its colors hyped and obnoxiously unreal). The lower half of the Girl Scout uniform is shredded through the holes of a colander labeled “Be Prepared.”

These amusing yet horrifyingly violent ensembles enact the painful story of female subjectivity under patriarchy (“be prepared . . .”). The source of this underlying agony, brought viscerally to the surface as surface (clothing), seems finally to be foregrounded by the one piece in the show that examines masculinity. In the large photomural Wet Dreams, 1990, a series of attached jockstraps appear to generate the vigorous spume in the rushing stream of an ostentatiously cliched mountain landscape. By suggesting that the alignment of the penis with the phallus of power is, like femininity, a secondary effect—sustained by continually reinscribed cultural attributes (the jockstraps), which veil the lack of the male organ itself (its flaccid failure to be the phallus)—Raymond mocks the ejaculatory, symbolically empowered role of the penis. At the same time, while clearly parodic, the installation’s predictable narrative of gender relations is entertainingly played out and incisively exposed, but hardly rewritten. I’d love to see a subsequent installation bring the female apparel to life, allowing it to fight back rather than posing its own victimization.

Amelia Jones