Detail of My Vows (Mes Voeux). 1988-91. Gelatin-silver prints under glass, and string, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Norton Family Foundation. Other details below.
In the series My Vows, begun in 1988, Messager presented images of body parts in dense clusters on walls. The photographs resemble ex-votos and devotional offerings found in chapels and pilgrimage places: each shows only a fragment and is attached to the wall with a length of string. The individual photographs of My Vows picture isolated body parts; hung in groups they do not constitute a body but mix bodies: old and young, nurturing and indifferent, aroused and at rest, male and female.
This deliberate confusion of identity is a powerful incantation: the interpenetration of different physical entities is strongly surreal, and the coherent whole it suggests is the psychological state in which gender is an elusive or progressive state, or in which genders are interchangeable. The idea of sexuality in which gender is not a given but is chosen and constructed just as other components of our human identity are, informs these works, which shift and change as the viewer's eye wanders over the array.
The fragmented aspect of the body may also reflect the traumatic nature of sexuality and the loss of self in the act of sex. In French, petite morte literally means "small death" and is used to refer not only to a seizure or fit but also to the act of sex. "There is a basic incompatibility between love and sexuality. Sexuality is traumatic as such.... It is not a matter of happiness and pleasure but of the uncanniness or otherness of desire. It refers us not to our common essences, but to our constitutive 'lack' of one."*
My Vows - 64K JPEG
Detail of My Vows (Mes Voeux). 1988-91. Gelatin-silver prints under glass, and string. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Norton Family Foundation.
* John Rajchman, "Lacan and the Ethics of Modernity," Representations, no. 15 (Summer 1986), 45.
Next | Home | Map
Copyright © 1995 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.