A gargantuan pink creature spews out of the mouth of a mounted deer head, filling the space of a country living room. A candy jar, lamp, chair and couch in each corner invite visitors to sit down, take a piece of candy and have what French artist Anne Ferrer calls a “Rabelaisian” encounter (it is voluptuously excessive, comic and lush). As artist-in-residence at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Ferrer spent three-and-a-half months living in the studio at Majestic Ranch, a space decorated with country furniture, and, as she remarks, even a sign that read “Country Living.” The artist has created a new kind of immersion experience in Country Wave, an installation at Blue Star that invites viewers into the artist’s studio and imagination.
Light, air-filled, and sewn of hot pink fabric, Ferrer’s gargantua is luscious, ripe and over the top. It takes over the entire space, crowding the furniture. The original Gargantua was born from a feast of tripe—his mother ate so much that he almost slipped out, but the midwife stopped the “fundament.” Gargantua escaped anyway, from a much smaller orifice—his mother’s ear. Ferrer’s pink giant also comes from an orifice too tiny to contain it (the stuffed dear’s mouth). Its whimsical dinosaur-like protuberances and huge blobby shape are warmly humorous—Ferrer leaves little room for cold irony.
The meaning of the giant changes from city to country, and Rabelais, who invented the figure of Gargantua, tracks this change in Gargantua and Pantagruel. In her book On Longing, Susan Stewart explains that the giant leaves traces in the landscape, moving through country festivals and carnivals devoted to feasting. In his travels, he founds cities in decidedly non-traditional ways. For example, Gargantua founded Paris by drowning 260,418 of its citizens in his piss. Those who escape cry and swear, "we’ve been covered ‘par ris’" (81). Ferrer’s installation has little to do with the founding of Paris, of course, but the relationship between culture and nature, city and country is at the crux of her installation.
Ferrer lives and works in Paris, where she has collaborated with a pastry chef to make edible sculptures and a perfumist to develop a scent delivery system for her installations. She professes an interest in ravissement (ravishment), because of its associations with delicious consumption, beauty and sexuality, but also for the word’s aggressive or violent associations. Ferrer often skirts the line where pleasure and the disgust of over-consumption meet.
In Country Wave, Rabelais meets the Texas Hill Country in an improbable place: the artist’s studio superimposed onto the space of the gallery. When artists go on residencies, away from their studios, families and friends, a new space of emptiness becomes present for them. In her preliminary sketches on the wall, Ferrer has filled this emptiness with the gargantuan pink presence of her own imagination, making the fantastic real. Her art is Rabelaisian because it is sensuous and overabundant, comical and grotesque.
Anne Ferrer: Country Wave
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio
April 2 – May 23, 2009
Julie M. Johnson teaches contemporary art at UTSA