A Matriarchy Modern expresses my belief that art can be a conduit for pure feeling and spiritual symbolism, while also engaging in a Modernist revision of contemporary life.
Contemporary art is often wary of spirituality, preferring subject matter that is philosophical or political. However, an important reference point for my practice is the spiritualist work of one of the few female pioneers of abstract art Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), whose non-representational compositions preceded that of other early abstractionists—including Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian—by almost a decade. A member of the Swedish Theosophical Society—an organization largely founded and run by women—af Klint was a passionate spiritualist and medium from 1879 to the end of her life. In 1896, af Klint and four other women formed a group called The Five, which was dedicated to the study of mediumship, and in 1906, af Klint was tasked by higher powers with the production of a body of abstract works that she called The Paintings for the Temple. Though af Klint concealed her revolutionary visual practice from the world, she was surrounded by a cosmopolitan community of poets, scientists, and journalists whose ideas and information entered and influenced her work. Through discoveries encountered through this social circle and through her own spiritualist explorations, af Klint’s artistic work from 1906 to 1944 illustrated the realm of the invisible and conceptually linked world religions to scientific investigations of atoms, radio waves, and x-rays.
A Matriarchy Modern also draws on Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist movement, which suggested a new vision of art—and, consequently, the world—through “pure feeling.” If af Klint’s work was interested in giving visual form to incorporeal forces and presences, Malevich’s Suprematism aimed to express and elicit emotional responses untethered to ideas or “objective” realities. Fundamental to Malevich’s manifesto was the decoupling of art and its historical service to spiritual and secular institutions, celebrating instead the experience of the individual: “The art of the past which stood, at least ostensibly, in the service of religion and the state, will take on new life in the pure (unapplied) art of Suprematism, which will build up a new world—the world of feeling….” The movement that Malevich started in 1915 and the treatise that he published in 1927 fundamentally shaped art for the last 100 years.
Taking up the mantles of af Klint and Malevich today, I would like to continue to re-envision the future that we are building, challenging it to be a future by and for women as well as men, a future with a more equitable ecology. The tripartite work that comprises A Matriarchy Modern acts as an icon and a flag for a women-led, utopian future. Three rhomboid fabric forms billow unevenly against a wall, their black contours nonlinear and frayed by sprays of loose fiber. At the center of each lies a square of vibrant color—fuschia, magenta, and hot pink—composed of skeins of silk strands that have been halved and sewn to the black cloth surface. The simple geometric compositions of these three textile works emerge from Malevich’s Black Square (1915). However, the black shape is replaced with a pink one that—appropriating the overdetermined relationship between this color and femininity in contemporary culture—is intended to symbolize womanhood and matriarchy. The excess threads that bleed down the fabric face in A Matriarchy Modern further interrupt the clean geometries of Malevich’s original Suprematist composition. Nodding to the spiritual basis of af Klint’s work, the three-part format of the work refers to the triptych structure of church altars which are so common in the churches around my home in Italy. Finally, the choice to render this work as a textile piece was influenced by an interest in creating an object that is conceptually and materially multidimensional.
Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods, edited by Christine Burgin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2018), 7-12.
Kazimir Malevich, “Suprematism,” in Modern Artists on Art, edited by Robert L. Herbert (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), 117.