In Ancient Greece, while the wise and not-so-wise philosophers argued in their endless symposiums, reclining among soft cushions, their wives frolicked in the field, dancing naked, ate cakes shaped like phalluses and sesame vulvas.
The truth is that much of their time was spent indoors, but when they left home, they messed it up. Or so we like to imagine it.
Robert Graves defined the Athenian Thesmophoria as agricultural orgies, and Laia Arqueros reinvents, again and again, these mysterious rites where only men were admitted, imbricating history and imagination in such a way that her ceramic pieces take us to an archaeological site still to be discovered, devoid of the prevailing androcentric bias.
The tongues are unleashed in the series that are exhibited in the Gallery Chrome. On its opening day, Laia did a performance (Essay for a ritual) with Mar Cianuro (voice) and Larry Rodriguez (music). Ceramics came to life on lips and hand of Yambe and Baubo reincarnated by Laia and Mar: uterine whistles, verses of iambic obscenity, sistrum decorated with women faces…
In a bed of chasteberry the maenads control their ritual, their explicit languages, their earthy voices (Mar recites). Maenads for a day, the women who went to the parties in honor of Demeter were connoisseurs of plants and fungi, able to control their effects on the libido and sacred drunkenness.
The statuette and engravings of Laia revert the masculine mythos: women coryphaeus manage their own choirs, they recover their gustatory organs and articulate sounds with a new language; the mycologists carry their vaginal cannulas over the shoulder; a heroine faces a speculum of aggressive jaws like a Hercules attacking the deer Cerinea.
Gynopia is the title that Arqueros gives to this last piece and drawings of chimerical creatures that take language out of the patriarchal discourse and its omissions of the feminine point of view. The terms “gyne” and “inopia” compose a neologism referred to the ignorance to which women have been doomed about problems in which they are concerned.
We also heard phonemes-laughter, phonemes-body, from the open mouths of alienated women by Carol Rama. Tied in hospital beds or wheelchairs, wearing vegetable crowns, their tongues snake mocking of institutional control.
When she was a little kid, in Mussolini’s Italy, Rama often visited her mother confined in a psychiatric center. Her watercolors of Apassionatas and Dorinas express the impression the confined women had had on her, revealing an irreducible desire stronger than straitjackets and narcotics.
In some drawings, dentures float between naked bodies; in others, snakes come out of their body orifices. Orthodontics laughter is reminiscent of vaginas dentatas, serpents act as dildos … Passion is self-satisfied.
In later works, Carol Rama will continue to use prosthetics both to regain female body territory and to reject the medical-institutional intervention in it. Her most abstract works continue to speak from and through the body: cannulas, syringes … coexist with ocular appendages or tufts of hair.
She once said that the tongue is the only organ that never ages. Neither her work ages, a carnal plastic that starts from the sphere of private but concerns the political.
Sticking out the tongue can express an incontinent passion or a conscious defiance, but also may mean sacrifice and slaughter. They are gradations of the same gesture that go through the work of Rama, from her first passionates to the butchers and the mad cow, an animal with which she identifies towards the end of her life.
During the Vietnam war, Nancy Spero aimed countless tongues towards bloody targets. In War, she captured the sexual and obscene charge of the military conflict: tongues are fire and swords, tongues lick missiles, mushroom cloud ejaculate, bombs are phalluses.
The drawings of dancing tongues were suggested to her by the damned in hell represented in medieval manuscripts with their tongue hanging out.
Egyptian papyri inspired her other series, such as the Codex Artaud, where texts by Antonin Artaud are accompanied by synthetic figures: snakes with erectile tongues next to the goddess Nut, who is masturbating; Artaud’s open mouth screams and licks.
Branded as irrational, hysterical, screamers… women have gone unheard… That is why Spero uses hysterical screams of a man, Artaud, whose alienated language expresses the silenced. And by evoking the apotropaic (magical, enchanting) function that language had in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it exorcizes pain.
Spero arranges in long friezes figures that remind us the obscene Sheela (who exhibits a fleshy vulva), a Celtic goddess of fertility or lust. Sometimes, she hangs Sheela as a piece of clothing as a goddess patron of home. The artist gives new meaning to female mythological figures, as Laia Arqueros do with Baubo, They fill the lack of archeological information with empowerment attributes.
In her project War-aq, the Iraqi Hayv Kahraman composed a card game about the feeling of the diaspora. In one of them, she portrayed herself cutting her tongue. This amputation was necessary to work from oblivion, from the mythical limbo of an exiled woman. The mother tongue would grow again, it would be relearned at the right time. Her work is fueled by other myths and other languages (ukiyo-e), and also by Iranian cultural traditions (Persian miniatures), to reach her own truth.
All these artists tear limbs apart, providing to the body fragmentary sensations, untraceable pleasures, working from the loss of a language to reinvent a new language endowed with mysterious properties, magic formulas, enchantments that only initiates can understand.
The language returns to them with the help of freely evoked myths, because the myth is able to reveal the unconscious content of the human being; often, reveals what cannot be said any other way.
Cosmogonías, by Laia Arqueros and Gina Thortensen
can be visited in galería Cromo, Barcelona
until 9th November 2018