Cathy De Monchaux



Not on display

Cathy De Monchaux born 1960
Denim, velvet, steel bolts and PVC
Object: 310 × 88 × 90 mm, 0.9 kg
Purchased 1994


Erase is a wall-hung sculpture made of contrasting elements. It comprises a long steel bolt encased in a section of velvet-lined, studded denim, held together with a zip. The denim, including fly-front zip, was cut from a worn-out pair of the artist's own jeans. She has referred to them as her 'heroic studio jeans' (Renton, p.144), indicating a pun on the tradition of the macho artist-creator. This reading is reinforced by the phallic nature of the steel bolt. The lush, red velvet lining the denim sheath has obvious vulvic associations. Metallic elements set into the sheath - prominent studs and the more hidden zip - echo the hard, shiny metal of the bolt, suggesting that male and female elements in this 'organism' are interdependent. The combination of male and female elements render it self-sufficient, subverting the traditional part-object status of the sexual fetish. De Monchaux has said of Erase that 'it's like a talisman, a very literal interpretation of what I was doing at that time … made … specifically for a show about male sexuality. It was … quite tongue-in-cheek' (Renton, p.144). Erase proposes a very feminine artist (evoked by the softly furled red velvet) wielding a masculine tool for construction.

De Monchaux's work of the late 1980s and early 1990s is characterised by the use of such rich, sensual fabrics as satin and velvet combined with, and constrained by, elaborate metal structures. The fabrics are frequently pleated and ruched, evoking female genitalia. Typically the works of this early period operate through a tension between an outer structure, which encloses and protects, and an inner form which is being held. Titles such as Hide 1988 (private collection), Brace 1989 (private collection), Slink 1990 (FRAC Haute-Normandy, French National Collection), Wrench 1990 (private collection), like Erase, represent embattled psychological states and attitudes which oscillate between the positions of aggressor and victim. Combining soft and hard materials, organic and industrial structures and evoking simultaneously warm sensuality and cold rigidity, these works speak a language of emotional complexity in which self-protection may quickly become claustrophobia. In Erase this is illustrated by the threat of engulfing and obliterating presented to the bolt by the sheath, the danger of being erased.

Further reading:
Andrew Renton, 'Cathy de Monchaux: Velvet Sex Trap', Flash Art, October 1990, pp.144-5
Cathy de Monchaux, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1997, reproduced p.68
Louisa Buck, 'Cathy de Monchaux', Tate: The Art Magazine, issue 12, summer 1997, pp.60-5, reproduced (colour) p.64

Elizabeth Manchester
March 2000/August 2001

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Display caption

Erase suggests both male and female sexual organs. De Monchaux's sculptures often have an underlying sense of violence, hinting at the darker side of eroticism and suppressed or taboo desires. She frequently uses contrasting materials and finishes, juxtaposing soft luxurious textiles with elaborately cut sheet metal or steel bolts to explore a wider series of oppositions: the explicit and chaste, the beautiful and grotesque, the seductive and repulsive, the body and machine.

Gallery label, August 2004

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