From 70 nominees, the jury of the 2019 Preis der Nationalgalerie shortlisted four artists – Simon Fujiwara, Flaka Haliti, Katja Novitskova and Pauline Curnier Jardin – whose work is currently presented in a shared exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof. The question that crossed my mind prior to seeing the show was: “Why these four?” The answer, I concluded, was that they all brought to the forefront important contemporary political issues and did so in an insightful way. The winner of this year’s competition was announced during Berlin Art Week: Pauline Curnier Jardin won the prestigious prize for her pertinent work concerning the ageing female body.
Curnier Jardin’s exhibition addresses women’s bodies through a focus on visibility, menstruation, pleasure and lust. ‘Peaux de Dame in the Hot Flashes Forest’ is a collection of pale pink, shiny vinyl shapes that resemble the female form. The colour and texture are almost sickly. The different bodily stand-ins are pinned around the space, inhabiting ‘The Hot Flashes Forest.’ Hot flashes are sudden and unpleasant feelings of warmth caused by changing hormones in a woman’s body during menopause. Curnier Jardin’s ‘Hot Flashes Forest’ is a dimly-lit space shrouded in tree-like shapes, in shades of pink and red, draping down from the ceiling and spreading across the floor. The darkness of the room and the tactile trees make us feel enclosed and intimate in the space, as though couched inside a womb. In her immersive installation, the red material trees part, creating an opening evocative of a vagina, to reveal the next section of her exhibition: the film ‘Qu’un Sang Impur.’
The film reminds us that the role and status of women has been traditionally linked to their bodies; both in form and function. When a woman reaches an older age, she is no longer objectified or sexualised by the patriarchal framework that dictates beauty standards. She is also freed from reproduction. As a result, the older woman becomes invisible. The film challenges this. The post-menopausal women in the film, after being dismissed by the younger people they desire, start to bleed again. Interestingly, the people in the film do not react to the blood as it seeps through their skirts, trickles down their legs, covering their shoes to make small pools on the floor. The camera then changes frame to show the dismissive young people lying dead. The women have reclaimed their space with blood, both menstrual and murderous.
The next chapter of the film depicts the rarely seen physical form of the older woman. The camera pans across the bodies of the women as they masturbate, showing their skin; lined and wrinkled by time. We are so used to seeing the female body unmarked by age; it is sexualised, it is normalised. It is as refreshing as it is thought provoking that Curnier Jardin exposes the form of older women, drawing attention to the patriarchal process that has served to make them invisible. In her installation and her film, the figure of the post-menopausal woman whose womb has ceased to function is presented against the problematic role of a woman as a ‘womb,’ when she starts to bleed again.