12-29 November 2014

Opening Night | Thursday 13 November 6-8pm

Celeste Aldahn

Celeste Juliet Aldahn is an Adelaide based inter-disciplinary artist. Her work focuses on the interconnectivity of third-wave feminism and new-age spirituality, focusing upon adolescent and early adult popular culture female imagery and experience. As a continuation of her research, Maiden, Mother, Crone presents new sculpture and video works, incorporating experimental sound and performance, manifested through methods and techniques that embrace the causality of error. Through parody and play, parallels are drawn between the spiritual and sexual, hinting to the hidden histories of women, while ‘beauty’ is employed as terrorist tactic to subvert the notion of “feminization” and investigate the dichotomy of glamour and the grotesque.

IMAGES | Celeste Aldahn, Floral Gimp/Queer Decay, two-channel digital video (still), 3:41 min loop, 2014, Industrial Craft, chain link fence, funerary flowers (detail), 2.5m x 3.3m, 2014| Images courtesy of the artist. 

Maiden, Mother, Crone

Filth is Glamour

The secret history of the feminine, as embodied through personal investigations of sexuality, the self and the female body, have been core to Celeste Aldahn’s practice for a number of years. In Maiden, Mother, Crone, Aldahn presents a new body of work that builds on these concerns and draws on punk and fetish culture to examine beauty and violence. The exhibition’s title is an opening to discuss representations of women and the feminine throughout history, and denotes a connection to the occult, where these three archetypes are seen as goddesses associated with the lunar cycle. Furthermore, it takes a small step away from her previous work, which largely occupied the field of bedroom and girl culture, and steps towards a nuanced engagement with the physicality and materiality of the feminine.

Throughout the featured video works, Aldahn traverses the boundaries between glamour and the grotesque, summoning imagery of fetishistic scenes and handy-cam porno. In Sploshing!, dank and filthy mattresses line the wall covered in plastic drop sheets. Aldahn places herself central in the image, draped topless over the knees of a hooded man. His role is to smack her bottom. Wires extend from microphones taped inside her black vinyl skirt, and fall to the ground where they connect to a number of synthesizers, which Aldahn manipulates to create a surreal soundscape. She appears both passive (dominated by an anonymous male figure) and active, as she utilises the sound generated by her repeated punishment to produce a piece of music. Her vulnerability in the situation is transformed into a position of power and control, as what she describes as the ‘mechanical swing of the slap’ is adopted as a creative act.

Roughly 16 minutes in, the subject changes, as Aldahn’s sadist (dehumanised) gimp stops smacking and exits screen. Alone on stage, she begins the sploshing, a fetishist act of covering one’s body in foodstuffs. For Aldahn it is a way of experiencing the boundaries of the self. The custard and strawberry syrup that she pours over her body is sticky and runny. Placing it on the body, the food is transformed to flesh, fatty tissue, menstrual blood and excrement. There is an abject blurring of the boundaries of outside and inside, of skin and flesh. Kristeva writes of this abjectification of the self, ‘I expel myself, I spit myself, I abject myself within the same motion through which I claim to establish myself.’[1] There is inherent violence to these acts, but it speaks for the way that women exert power over their own bodies and their right to sexuality outside of objectification.

In Open Sky, Paul Virilio discusses the role of multimedia and cyberspace in allowing women control of their own self-construction, and interpretation of the boundaries of their bodies. He quotes French Women’s group En Attendant, who were active in the 90’s, ‘cyberfeminism participates in the development of a feminist consciousness and emphasises the importance of the multimedia in perception of the body.’[2] As a South/Australian counterpoint, the VNS Matrix Cyberfeminist Manifesto further highlighted the material coexistence between the machine and the female body. Cyberfeminism occupies itself with bodies and technologies precisely because these two aspects have generated such contested and politicised (gendered) issues throughout technology’s history.

Aldahn uses technology, manipulating sound and image within the featured video works, to create an ambiguous, violent, uncomfortable space. In Floral Gimp/Queer Decay, this manipulation creates a rupture between Aldahn’s vinyl clad, dangerous, sexualised body, and an image of a red rose against a blue sky, reminiscent of Dali’s Meditative Rose. Aldahn controls the image with visual ‘synthesizers’; her body flashes lurid pink, the rose too takes on brilliant magenta tones. Her face, hidden within a gimp mask, melts into the rose and contrasts with the cyan sky. The rose blooms from a bud. Her body stutters and lapses, but remains erotic. And in this way she creates a subversion of traditional female sexuality. She opens up uncertainties and possibilities for what a woman’s body can look like, can do.

While Aldahn’s video works possess a level of performance, there is also a feeling of reality and grittiness. We gather they aren’t just for show and instead feel exposed to the inner workings of her various communities, the diversity of contemporary female life. She presents female sexuality as apart of a hidden history and discusses female desire in an open and new way. And so, the work includes playfulness, exploration and pleasure alongside social and anthropological investigations.

The abject resurfaces in Aldahn’s Skins. Constructed from rubber latex and plastic, their drape mimics that of a deboned creature, where just the sheath of life is left. The work is reminiscent of Urs Fischer’s series of life size candle sculptures of sexualised women, carved from wax with cartoon-like features in lurid pop colours. A wick in the candle was lit, and the sculptures burned down, melting away body parts and leaving in their place a sticky, melty, glitchy shell. The melting process reincarnated the women as hollow skins, complete with abject body parts that didn’t have the chance to melt away, and dripping trails of wax that showed their decay and demise. Aldahn takes this violent shedding of flesh, and presents it as a skin that has been discarded, but could also be re-worn. Where Fischer’s violence is permanent, Aldahn’s skins are opportunity to repatriate with an other. The skins are malleable, permeable, visceral, and they are a surface that could be adopted and worn. Reconciliation with the Maiden, or Mother, or Crone. The exhibition shares an investigation of these tropes, and Aldahn’s desire to embody each. She does this through rupturing and transgressing feminine taboo, exploring the boundaries of feminization, fertility and female wisdom.

Adele Sliuzas, Arts Writer / Curator,  2014

[1] Kristeva, Julia, 1982, Powers of Horror: Essays in Abjection, Columbia University Press, New York, p3

[2] ‘en attendant’ in letter d’information de la maison de toutes les chimeres, no 3 December 1994, quoted in Virilio, Paul, 1997, Open Sky, Verso, London, p 115