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b. 1976, Switzerland

Mai-Thu Perret Biography

Mai-Thu Perret is a contemporary artist of Franco-Vietnamese descent whose multidisciplinary, installation-based works engage with experimental literature and feminist politics.

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Perret demonstrates her interest in semantics and the structure of language by channelling literary techniques—like fragmented narrative and pastiche—into her artistic production. Since 1999, Perret has created artworks germane to a project titled ‘The Crystal Frontier’—a fictional narrative about the lives and work of members of a radical, autonomous, all-female commune. Disenchanted with the patriarchy and capitalist society, these women abandon city life and seek asylum in the deserts of New Mexico where they formed a collective called ‘New Ponderosa Year Zero.’

Conjuring a unique personality for each character, Perret assumes the role of an omniscient raconteur as she creates each discrete artwork from the perspective of one of her protagonists. The artist weaves together disparate domains of art and literature to form a rich narrative that reflects the diversity of her fictional community. Since the project’s inception, Perret’s oeuvre has grown to encompass a constellation of objects and ephemera including sculptures, paintings, drawings, collages, neon lights, films, performances, journal entries, letters and song lyrics. Though the artist does not adhere to a signature style, her works are tethered by an exploration of the potentials of a utopian feminist society and reflection on the failures of modernism.

Perret deliberately cultivates a sense of ambiguity across her body of work to investigate systems of interpretation. Many of her works’ more lyrical titles—such as This melody can only exist in heaven. In the world of men, how often can one hear it? and Where the sun and shade do not reach, there is marvelous scenery indeed—are intentionally paradoxical or absurd; Perret extracted them from a book of Zen koans— riddles designed by Zen Buddhists to provoke contemplation and guide them towards greater universal truths and enlightenment.

The artist further harnesses the power of ambiguity with her recurring use of suggestive motifs. Eggs makes a regular appearance in Perret’s glazed ceramic sculptures and can be found throughout her series of wall reliefs titled ‘Heart and Soul’ (2007). Perret’s egg motif connects to a wide range of symbolic meanings, from its allusions to birth and creation to its association with poultry farming. The Rorschach inkblots—with their inherent associations with psychology and the unconscious mind—is another trope Perret uses to grant interpretive freedom to her viewers and explore notions of subjectivity. Each of her series ‘Migraine’ (2010), ‘Melancholia’ (2011–13) and ‘Agoraphobia’ (2016) consists of monumental Rorschach-like stain paintings created by pouring acrylic paint onto synthetic carpet and successively folding the carpet onto itself.

Since 2016, Perret has expanded her focus beyond ‘The Crystal Frontier’ to address current events in the political sphere. As part of her series ‘Les guérillères’ (2016), the artist created life-size female mannequins using a variety of media (such as papier-mâché, glazed ceramic, wicker and steel). These mannequins wear synthetic wigs and variations of camouflage uniforms while often wielding brightly coloured, transparent assault rifles made of resin. The figures—named after French writer Monique Wittig’s feminist text Les Guérillères—are inspired by the YPJ (the Women’s Protection Units)—an all-female Syrian militia who fight against Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

After receiving her BA in English Literature from Cambridge University in 1997, Perret co-curated independent art spaces in Geneva and New York before joining the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program in 2002. Her expertise in avantgarde art and theory is evident in her work, as the artist routinely draws from and pays homage to movements such as Constructivism, Dada, Bauhaus and Minimalism. She has cited a myriad of inspirations including artists Varvara Stepanova, Robert Smithson, Liam Gillick and Jim Shaw; and writers such as  Ursula K Le Guin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Monique Wittig.

Perret has held solo exhibitions in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Hong Kong. Her work was included in the 54th Venice Biennale and other biennials in Liverpool, Lyon, Athens and Geneva. In 2018, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO) in Geneva held a major retrospective of the artist’s work. Perret continues to exhibit her work internationally.

E-fahn Wang | Ocula | 2019

Mai-Thu Perret Featured Artworks

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Flowers in the Eye by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretFlowers in the Eye, 2020Haute lisse hand woven wool tapestry
193 x 143.8 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretUntitled, 2020Haute lisse hand woven wool tapestry
220.7 x 149.9 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Looking left and right, she stands there in a daze by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretLooking left and right, she stands there in a daze, 2019Glazed ceramic
27 x 12.1 x 5.4 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
A Portable Apocalypse Ballet (Red Ring) 2008 (For Parkett 84) by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretA Portable Apocalypse Ballet (Red Ring) 2008 (For Parkett 84), 2008Sculpture, opaque non-toxic polyurethane resin, colour cast with instant polyurethane pigments
37.5 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm
Parkett Contact Gallery
Actually know your own mind by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretActually know your own mind, 2016Glazed ceramic
37 x 48 x 7 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Sister by Mai-Thu Perret contemporary artwork
Mai-Thu PerretSister, 2016Screenprint on paper
84.1 x 59.4 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery

Mai-Thu Perret Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Mai-Thu Perret, Flowers in the Eye at Simon Lee Gallery, New York
Open Now
15 September–17 October 2020 Mai-Thu Perret Flowers in the Eye Simon Lee Gallery, New YorkNew York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, (SELF) PORTRAITS at Parkett, Zurich
Open Now
22 February–30 September 2020 Group Exhibition (SELF) PORTRAITS Parkett, Zurich Exhibition SpaceZurich Exhibition Space
Contemporary art exhibition, Mai-Thu Perret, News from Nowhere at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong
10 January–28 March 2020 Mai-Thu Perret News from Nowhere Simon Lee Gallery, Hong KongHong Kong

Mai-Thu Perret Represented By

Simon Lee Gallery contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Simon Lee Gallery Hong Kong, London, New York

Mai-Thu Perret In Related Press

Mai-Thu Perret’s 'Zone' Related Press Mai-Thu Perret’s 'Zone' 1 February 2017, Art Agenda

Sometimes an artwork responds to the world outside; sometimes the world outside responds to an artwork; and sometimes neither knows of the other, yet each is enhanced by it all the same. Such a moment occurred recently when one could march down Piccadilly, in protest with and in the presence of tens of thousands of women, and turn into a side...

Fade out copy.
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