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Lives and works in Götenburg, Sweden
Exhibition views. Photos: David Samyn
Individual works. Photos: David Samyn
Hunting the Hero
Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Nothing is original” declared film director Jim Jarmusch two decades ago. One must “devour old films, new films, music, books, poems, dreams, random conversations, lights, and shadows (…) because “originality is non-existent, but authenticity is invaluable”. The idea that we are internalizing everything we see, hear, read, experience, (…), whether it is positive or negative, fuelling four minds, touches upon the mere essence of Sam Druant’s (°1998, Antwerp) debut solo – To Hunt a Hunter, We Gather – at Gallery Geukens & De Vil.
To create this exhibition Druant chose to focus on the methodology of Gathering. Gathering inspiration in texts, images, theories, conversations, … But also, the act of gathering networks, and observing the actions and stories in our surroundings and of oneself. Each of these sources – good, bad, conscious, or unconscious – are stored in what the artist refers to as a Carrier Bag. With this show, Druant empties her own personal Carrier Bag, and offers a voyeuristic peek into her imagination. By collecting the voices of many, and weaving them together into new stories, the artist presents a refreshing take on the dominant narratives that define our Western society.
When entering, a large textile work unfolds on the facing wall. We Weave, presenting a group of women, twirling and dancing in the woods, while weaving a web in between them, is a key-work in the show. Throughout the exhibition, the motif of a spiderweb is used as a metaphor to visualize the concept of a Carrier Bag. A non-linear web, woven by a spider (the ultimate hunter-gatherer). The spider is rooted in a feminine history since she was considered a creation goddess in many Native American cultures. Grandmother Spider (or Earth Mother, Earth Goddess, …) is the mother of humankind, protecting, nurturing, and guiding us along our paths. It makes one reflect on how our world would be if we would still worship her as our creation goddess? No story of Adam and Eve, with Eve as the ultimate sinner. Would women hold primary power positions in our social system or would it be socially egalitarian? Research by pioneers like Heide Göttner-Abendroth back up the idea that matriarchal societies are no images of patriarchal ones, because they don’t need patriarchy’s hierarchical structures of domination.
Druants idea of the Carrier Bag – as we see in the work facing the desk – was inspired by Ursula Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag of Fiction. She introduced the idea of anthropologist Elizabeth Fisher that man’s first cultural devise must have been a carrying tool, rather than a spear to hunt. The ratio of collecting nuts and berries must have been much higher than that of hunting animals. But then why do early cave paintings mostly depict figures hunting? It illustrates how storytelling is a powerful thing. The narratives that survive the ages are the exciting ones, filled with drama and heroes. These – often violent – stories in chronological order, is what we call history. As stated by Le Guin, the tales in our Carrier Bags are quite the opposite: a jumbled mess, focussing on people rather than on a singular hero. Inspired by this author, Druant’s work reflects on how history would look like if the stories that survived where the not the dramatic hero narratives but the ones about gatherers? How would the history of Western civilization look like if it was nonlinear? Could we rewrite our history (and today’s society) if we “Hunt the Hero/Hunter”?
Druant uses textile as a preferred medium. Historically speaking, a tapestry tells a story of the people who made it, to the people it was made for – a technique appealing to the artist. The use of textile symbolizes the weaving together of experiences, stories, and images into a new narrative. The viewer in his turn, absorbs this story and uses it for his own. The medium of textile is historically considered inferior because it’s linked to women and the domestic sphere. Even though textile has become a more popular medium in the visual arts today, the (annoying) connotations with gender are hard to shake. It begs the question: how would the history of Western Art have evolved, if it would have been determined by a more diverse group of artists?
It is quite hard to push the boundaries of dominant discourse and create space for new counter-narratives. Strong characters define the works of Sam Druant, but at the same time the artist shares small glimpses of disempowerment. For example, the work Running with a Leash is based on Women who run with the Wolves by Pinkola Estés, presenting the archetype of "The Wild Woman". Estés presents an alternative feminine mythology that calls women to discover their – powerful – nature, instead of letting their emotions be trivialized. However, the text “Still treating her like a dog” reveals the challenges that come with. In this sense, the work relates to Hunting Myself, which touches upon the notion of being gaslighted to conform to normative society.
Human hostility is not determined by biology or gender. Brutal behaviour is the product of culture. To create change, we must subvert the system that we are part of. By uniting, gathering, and sharing as many voices as possible, we can pinpoint the complex web of oppressions, because “how can we change a system that cannot be named?” (Cf. Bell Hooks). Sam Druant empties her carrier bag all over the walls of the exhibition space, inviting to reflect on our society, which culminates in the bonbonniere, the heart of the exhibition, presenting a large table for everyone to sit around, to read, converse and share thoughts, facilitating a place where We Gather.
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