Amherst

Michèle Blondel

University Museum of Contemporary Art, UMassAmherst

The 19 sculptures and installation pieces (ranging from 1986 to 1992) that comprised this exhibition reflected Michèle Blondel’s unique mixture of feminist Catholic liturgy and tongue-in-cheek humor. Its title, “Prélait-Point de Rosée-Lactaires Délicieux” (Pre-milk [or prelate]- dewpoint-sweet milk cap), suggests a new mother’s watery yellow “premilk” colostrum, sweat, and the sperm-covered head of a penis. Indeed, breasts, penises, and body fluids are omnipresent in Blondel’s elaborate assemblages, which feature hand-blown Baccarat glass phalluses and breasts, metal hardware, and found objects cum fetishes. An accompanying 45-minute performance Prélait, Point de Rosée, 1992, with Blondel, soprano Mossa Bildner, and bassist Frederick Williams further explored eroticism, spirituality, and ritual.

The central large installation, Bene Pendantes (Well hung, 1990) consisted of 13 ornate velvet vestments (one for each apostle and one for Christ) suspended from the ceiling on 7 double-edged steel lances above gold-framed mirrors in the shape of the Latin Cross. Four purple and red glass penises—only three of which were accompanied by glass “testicles”—were carefully placed on four mirrors. This comic piece referred to the actual practice of looking up a papal candidate’s chasuble with mirrors to check to see that he is a properly equipped male. The title refers both to the suspended priests’ garments and the priests’ undefiled, unused “glass” balls.

Everywhere the sacrosanct was undercut by sometimes hilarious, pornographic, or absurd imagery—especially in Blondel’s blasphemous performance, which parodied the rituals of the Mass, sexual foreplay, and intercourse. In Prélait, Point de Rosée, Blondel manipulated foodstuffs accompanied by a performance of her 1988 poem “Recueil des mots de ma Langue” (The harvest of the words of my tongue) which had been set to improvisational music. The long, scurrilous poem was sung by Bildner as if she were performing a Wagnerian opera. Outfitted in a black and white nun’s habit designed by Karl Lagerfeld, Blondel began by standing on a wooden prayer stool and dripping large globs of sticky maple syrup down the top of framed Plexiglas canvases into aluminum gutters lined with goose down. With a surgeon’s accuracy, she took a sharp knife and removed skin from a raw chicken, sewing the skins into prophylactics that she placed on top of two Baccarat crystal forms that resembled circumcised penises. After donning diaphanous ruffled gloves, Blondel fashioned a flour vagina and poured a sticky white substance into it. Adding milk to her “sacred” dough, she placed it and the skins in a metal pot, removed her gloves, and eviscerated three raw mackerel. Blondel’s erotic probing of the bloody open slits in the fish was followed by meticulous stitching up. Blondel cut off the heads of the fish, sectioned them, and placed pieces inside a symbolic loaf of bread. These sandwiches were offered to the audience as one would offer communion wafers to a congregation. The Christian symbols of fish, bread, and blood were interwoven with sexually suggestive skins, liquids, and viscera. In the end, Blondel’s obsessive manipulations of the links between the sacred and the profane separate this high priestess from artists such as Kiki Smith who have also sought to probe our corporeal unconscious.

Francine Koslow Miller