What does Jean-Jacques Rousseau tell us? He says that we are born weak, that we are born stupid, without judgement; unprovided for, we need aid. This aid will come to us from education, which will cultivate us like plants. Self-reliant, observant of the world around us, we will learn the consequences of liberty, of choice. Removed from the corrupting effects of society, we will move back to our natural state, like the wild girl of the woods of Champagne; we will not follow rules; rather, we will learn from the consequences of our actions, and later, we may read literature and philosophy, when we have developed the capacity to judge.Like Emile, Sharon Kivland lives in the French countryside, though going frequently to London for discussion on philosophy, politics, and psychoanalysis. She remarks that Jean-Jacques, despite his many fine qualities, despite his declarations on moral and political equality, has a rather different programme of education for girls (of which she rather disapproves, for she cannot find a place there for herself) so she turns instead (naturally) from Emile to Choderlos de Laclos.
In reflections on slavery, labour, revolution, and desire, Sharon Kivland exhibited fifteen embroidered linen robes (as worn by the wild girl of the woods of Champagne when she is domesticated perhaps? No, no, that is merely whimsical they are the nightdresses of working girls, whatever their embroidered texts declare), and a selection of other works on her favourite subjects, including some small kidskins (a reminder of natural relations), a series of photographs of those French soaps called ‘Bonne Mere (so useful in the punitive insistence on good language), leather cartes de visite carrying descriptions of the transgressive body of that natural woman of the demi-monde, Nana, returned to her through a simple change in pronoun, and useful pencils and handkerchiefs, neatly contained by her son’s exercise in writing.
An admirer of Rousseau, he nonetheless advocates, with fervour, the equality of the sexes, dwelling on ‘la femme-naturelle, for whom only a revolution can change her current condition of slavery and where there is slavery there can be no education (he adds)
The project was educational, but naturally so, intended to induce the convulsive laughter of noisy merriment, the expression of pleasure, and numerous contradictions.
Ma Nana et autres filles Atelier A gentle and refined display of three embroidered gowns, three embroidered handkerchiefs, eight lovely cartes de visite embossed on fair calfskin with a dizzying description of Zola’s Nana (in which ‘elle’ is replaced with ‘je’ and ‘sa’, son’, and ‘ses’ with ‘ma’, mon’, and ‘mes), and three prints, like the one above, a detail of a chromograph of an actress or the Blessed Virgin Mary (you decide).
The way in which each child navigates his passage through the Oedipal relation will determine both his assumption of a sexual position and his choice of sexual object
Mes Fils, from which the exhibition takes its title, includes a continuing series of photographs, each showing the same woman in an embrace with a different man. Closer inspection reveals that the woman is much older than her partner, old enough, in fact, to be his mother. The work engages with the Oedipus complex and its resolution in prohibition, when the son must renounce his desire for his mother. Here no father intervenes, however, to impose his law and to separate mother from child. The scandal is evident, and there is a further underlying transgression in the work. As the series continues, the woman – the artist – gets older while the men (all former students, I am sorry to say) remain the same age. They are, however, completely interchangeable, while she is constant and singular. In the same series are several other works that also take up the themes of prohibition and transgression in an atmosphere of elegant refinement.