Art critique

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley slam feminism via Myth of Europe –


A distressed white princess dressed in tattered clothing waves a red scarf in the air as she is kidnapped on the back of a white bull. The bull, she will soon learn, is Zeus in disguise. He takes her to Crete, where he will rape her and get her pregnant, then make her his queen. This Greek myth about defenseless Phoenician mortal Europe, after which the continent probably got its name, is portrayed in one of the most famous paintings of all time, that of Titian. The Abduction of Europe, commissioned by King Philip II of Spain in the 16th century. Since 1896 it has been part of the collection of the famous Boston socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner, whose museum currently displays all of Titian’s mythological works. poetry paintings, briefly reunited after four hundred years apart.

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The myth glorified the noble lack of defense of Europe against the will of the gods. The implicit gender dynamic is quite disgusting: rape is romanticized! To add an asterisk to this celebration of the painting, the Gardner invited collaborative couple Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley to provide a feminist response. The duo’s works typically tell the stories of women throughout history, often creatively filling gaps in the archives, as few women have had the chance to create art or write memoirs over the centuries. previous ones. In their response, a nine-minute video titled after Titian’s painting, the Kelleys don’t just point out that rape is bad – that kind of feminist criticism is obvious, and it’s depressing that it needs to be. repeat. Instead, they concoct an absurd portrayal of white feminism in all of its complex contradictions, showing how victimization has at times been exercised for the worse.

The work opens with a scene representing the protagonist shortly after her rape. Her clothes are torn to shreds and she is distracted by the fear of being pregnant. As in all of the Kelley’s videos, the actress and her costume appear white with hard black outlines, and she inhabit a computer-generated grayscale world – in this case, a room that resembles Gardner’s Venetian court. , after the looting. The video is reminiscent of the political caricatures of revolutionary France, approaching real-world events with a heavy dose of caricature. The black-and-white palette lends a dark, historic veneer, but the DIY effects make it all weird.

A black-and-white video shows three more women on a wooden platform, dressed in costumes suggesting they are naked.  They each hold an oversized needle-like accessory.  The background is a piece of fabric on which statuettes are painted.

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, The Abduction of Europe, 2021, HD video with sound, 9 minutes 7 seconds.
Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

While acknowledging the validity of Europa’s injury, the Kelleys remind us that victim mentalities can be toxic. In their far from simplistic dive into the psyche of Europe, the mythical character delivers whiny lines that make it clear that she hasn’t dealt with her trauma in a healthy way. In the scene where the otherwise obnoxious lady is portrayed in the most sympathetic way, she tries to practice affirmations in the mirror but ends up screaming, heartbreaking, “it’s all your fault.” She doubles that self-hatred and relishes her newfound closeness to power, embracing Zeus’ misogyny by rejecting women’s societal contributions. Her explosions are childish responses to vignettes from history lessons, in which Reid Kelley speaks in limericks to tell stories about the foundational inventions of ancient women in Europe and beyond, including beer and needles. But the protagonist of the Kelleys brings it all down to herself and she poops most of those accomplishments. When told that a woman from Mosul invented yogurt, for example, she says, yes, so what? She retorts, in a very Karen way, that she is lactose intolerant (she also doesn’t eat gluten, carbohydrates, or shellfish). In another clip, Europa passionately paints the phrase “I am a victim [sic]”On a canvas, giving the museum the hold they probably expected, but with a spelling mistake that makes a wink and a wink. The Kelleys poke fun at her self-centeredness with a limerick line on the history’s first white lady, who “got very brittle when she wasn’t in the middle.”

The duo succeed in countering the prejudices of history, showing that ancient women were not only victims, but innovators as well. At the same time, they caricature the attitude of the boss who would have us believe that the efforts of entrepreneurship are enough to reverse the imbalances of power. Humor is their main weapon. The buffoonery common in the limericks – which favors rhythm and rhyme over meaning – perfectly and playfully captures the contradictions of white feminism. The Kelley’s video is a necessary update to the genre of ‘feminist response’.