Detail of The Pikes (Les Piques). 1991-93. Parts of dolls, fabric, nylons, colored pencil on paper under glass, and metal poles. Overall dimensions 118 x 356 inches. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and collection Michael Harris Spector and Dr. Joan Spector. Details of individual elements below.
In 1991-93 Messager created a monumental series titled The Pikes. In one component work in the series, almost two hundred tall rods or pikes impale or support objects and lean in a jungle of verticals along adjacent walls. There is an implicit violence in the symbolism of the pikes that refers specifically to the sans culottes uprising and the Reign of Terror in which long sharpened poles or piques were used to impale the heads of the guillotine victims of the French Revolution of 1789-1799.
Messager's pikes present objects and images in a nightmarish density of tiny, limp figures, body parts, images of rape and military devastation, maps, and densely scribbled drawings. The objects are doll parts and stuffed fabric figures made by Messager herself in gruesome combinations of headless torsos, collections of too many arms and legs, and internal organs encased in nylon hosiery.
The maps show different modern political entities in Africa, Europe, and the Mideast, the drawings depict open-mouthed corpses and homeless people, and the abstract, frantic scribbles express abject despair. Nothing is seen whole; figures are presented as effigies, and the forms seem to be pieces of unfinished, interrupted stories scattered across the room, moving from social crimes to crimes of neglect to violence against women to war. Everything portrayed has been victimized, eviscerated, devastated beyond redemption.
Messager wanted to deal aggressively with the significant issues she saw in the current events unfolding around her. She found photographs in a magazine of a man carrying some pikes and a face covered up by a burlap sack pulled over the head, and she was inspired to manifest these and other images of recent events with her sewn objects. In The Pikes, anonymous individuals and important events and entities all exist in the same space, crowding each other yet immobilized, their different discourses adding another jarring effect to a sense of overwhelming disorientation.
The Pikes - 65K JPEG
Detail of The Pikes (Les Piques). 1991-93. Parts of dolls, fabric, nylons, colored pencils, colored pencil on paper under glass, and metal poles. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and collection Michael Harris Spector and Dr. Joan Spector.
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