Summary

Never forget the power of tears is a large sculpture set on the floor. Twelve tomb-sized slabs of lead are enclosed in steel frames and mounted on narrow, pink, felt-covered plinths. Laid in two sets of rows of three, these flank a central spine composed of ornately puckered and stitched pink and red leather forms attached to a double row of steel, gargoyle-like figures. The hands and faces of the little figures disappear into the lower parts of the fleshy leather forms. At regular intervals, red tongue-like protrusions rise out of red leather lips and are tied to the gargoyles with fine, black satin ribbons. Separating the vulvic lips and their phallic tongues are ribbed structures made of pink leather. These are echoed in the elaborately ruched forms decorating each end of the central panel. Narrow bands of pink leather are set around the edges of each lead slab, separating them from the supporting frames. The steel of the frames and the gargoyles has been chemically distressed and the central leather part has been dusted with talc to convey 'a patina of age and belonging' (de Monchaux quoted in The Turner Prize 1998, [p.7]).

De Monchaux's sculptures employ the tension between opposites to evoke situations of emotional and psychological complexity. She has called this 'a metaphor for the dialogue between all those opposing sides of the human psyche who are having their own shootout in your head all the time, as you struggle to appear to be a balanced human being' (quoted in The Turner Prize 1998, [p.6]). Like an earlier work with structural similarities, Wandering about in the future, looking forward to the past 1994 (Tate T06963), Never forget the power of tears evokes themes of danger, desire, constraint and death, through imagery connected to female sexuality. The smooth and reflective surfaces of the lead slabs provide a stark contrast to the ornate sensuality of the central rib, while the lead itself provides a chilling reminder of death through its toxicity and its dense weight. The visceral core of the central structure resembles both a sutured wound and an engulfing Venus fly-trap, a mouth which swallows human beings into lead-covered graves. De Monchaux's use of obsessive repetition connects the clean lines of the Minimalist grid with ornate neo-Gothic or Baroque imagery, creating a unique, personal sculptural language. In this piece, as in much of her work, she evokes the anxiety inherent in desire, an embattled condition in which self-protection may too easily become destruction and obliteration.

Further reading:
Cathy de Monchaux, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1997, p.10
The Turner Prize 1998, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery London 1998, [p.7], reproduced (colour, detail) [p.7]
Heidi Reitmaier, 'It might be mysterious to men … Interview with Cathy de Monchaux', Make, issue 75, April-May 1997, pp.18-21

Elizabeth Manchester
March 2000/August 2001