Cathy De Monchaux

Wandering about in the future, looking forward to the past


Not on display

Cathy De Monchaux born 1960
Glass, velvet, ribbon and metal
Displayed: 3670 × 8000 × 80 mm
Purchased 1994


Wandering about in the future, looking forward to the past is a complex wall-mounted sculpture made up of three separate parts. Two identical, large, square panels flank a narrow, vertical section which extends slightly beyond the square panels at top and bottom. The square flanking sections each comprise twelve panes of glass (eight square and four rectangular) rendered opaque by the application of white paint on the reverse side. The panes of glass have been set in and are separated by a grid of black velvet, providing a narrow margin around the edges of each section. The glass panes are crossed by black ribbons which are held in place, on the wall around the panel as well as on the panes themselves, by elaborate metal fastenings in a mock-gothic style. The dramatic predominance of the colour black creates a funereal effect. The central section is made up of similar fastenings and ribbons constraining a long, pink leather element. This is folded in two vertically to resemble a narrow, fissured fold of flesh, supported by delicate brass and steel fittings. Set at regular intervals, the elaborate fastenings and black ribbons pull the fleshy lips apart to reveal small clusters of ruched, red and pink leather evoking female genitalia. This section has been dusted with chalk to give it an aged appearance. De Monchaux has said:

The process of my art could best be described as life, writing, drawing and making. The sentences used as titles are as close to revealing what the work is about for me as I want to get … I see them as a kind of parallel through or narrative to the work - where they don't describe it literally but maybe put an emotional edge onto the way that it is looked at.

(Quoted in Cathy de Monchaux 2000, [p.2].)

Since 1994 de Monchaux has made several works that combine the Minimalist vocabulary of grid and repetition with decorative neo-gothic or baroque forms and materials. Soft, flesh-like elements are typically held in ornate constraints with sado-masochistic overtones, evoking a mixture of cruelty and pleasure. Her sexual and fetishistic imagery articulates a psychological and emotional language, based on the tension between opposites. She has spoken of this as '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]). Her work evokes embattled conditions of relating, under which emotional openings to another are only possible through elaborate contraptions of restraint. Anxiety and the threat of invasion and retaliation are dominant themes. Never forget the power of tears 1997 (Tate T07498) is a later floor-based de Monchaux sculpture with a similar tri-partite structure.

Further reading:
Cathy de Monchaux, exhibition brochure, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo 2000
Cathy de Monchaux, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1997, p.11, reproduced (colour) pp.36-9, plates 4-6
The Turner Prize 1998, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery London 1998, [p.7], reproduced (colour) [p.6]

Elizabeth Manchester
March 2000/August 2001

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Display caption

De Monchaux's work refers to the body in both its physical and psychological aspects. Her sculptures are often sexual in their evocations. Characteristically, she uses contrasting materials and finishes, combining soft, luxurious textiles with elaborately cut sheet metal. The vertical element in this sculpture recalls the openings and zips of De Monchaux's earlier works. The sensation of an interior space lying beyond and inside this strip is unmistakeable. The illusion of hidden or obscured spaces is enhanced by the beribboned, painted glass panels flanking the central element. The architectural scale of this work suggests the possibility of a further space behind the white-painted glass.

Gallery label, August 2004

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