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Mai-Thu Perret: Flowers in the Eye
In partnership with Simon Lee Gallery, New York

By Sherry Paik
New York
2 October 2020

In this Ocula Video Insight, presented in partnership with Simon Lee Gallery, Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret introduces new ceramic and tapestry works on view in her solo show Flowers in the Eye at Simon Lee Gallery, New York (15 September–17 October 2020).

Flowers in the Eye follows on from the artist's exhibition News from Nowhere with Simon Lee Hong Kong earlier this year (10 January–28 March 2020). Often drawing inspiration from avant-garde and radical art movements, Perret derived her Hong Kong exhibition's title from an eponymous novel by the 19th century British artist and writer William Morris, in which he imagined a utopian, capitalism-free future.

Exhibition view: Mai-Thu Perret, Flowers in the Eye, Simon Lee Gallery, New York (15 September–17 October 2020). Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo: Pierre Le Hors

While Perret's News from Nowhere included ceramic works like Yesterday rain, clear skies tomorrow and Today there is, tomorrow there isn't (both 2019)—smooth rectangular slabs with an organically shaped hole at each of their centres—Flowers in the Eye offers a different set of approaches to glazed ceramic: the new works focus on gesture and the transformation of clay from wet and 'endlessly pliable' to fired and static.

A thousand peaks twist and turn, their color like indigo and Majestic and aloof, off in a world apart (both 2020), a pair of circular, wall-mounted ceramics, are titled in Perret's characteristically lyrical manner. At a distance, these glazed, tactile surfaces are marked with patterns that evoke an entanglement of flower petals. As Perret explains in the video, however, they are in fact the product of the artist's hands engraving a trail of time and movement into unfired clay. When fired, the trace is preserved and held between motion and stillness.

Mai-Thu Perret, On top of snow she adds a layer of frost (2020). Glazed ceramic, 30 x 56 x 56 cm (11 3/4 x 22 1/8 x 22 1/8 in.) Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo: Mareike Tocha.

A similar preservation infuses a pair of ceramic baskets, whose forms not only refer back to the functional uses for ceramics but also to the tradition of decorative pots and vases. On top of snow she adds a layer of frost is entirely white and tall, a contrast to the black and flat-bottomed The fool piles up snow to make a silver mountain (both 2020). Seen from above, the sparsely woven baskets resemble netting or skeletal flowers, perhaps hinting at the construction method of the tapestries hanging on the wall nearby.

Based on Perret's watercolour sketches and woven in a workshop in Mexico, two tapestries retain 'all the washes, all the details, and all the small accidents of the paint'. Flowers in the Eye (2020) looks remarkably like a painting from afar—the muted green and black colours seemingly bleed and seep into the fabric of the canvas—when in reality they have been woven, thread by thread.

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