Merry Go Round

The Belgian artist Maria Degrève has occupied a particular place in the world of performance art from the end of the 1980s and 90s until the present day. During the mid-1980s, after completing her training in art and philosophy, Degrève spent two years in New York. Here, in an approach similar to other female artists such as Francesca Woodman, Claude Cahun, Ana Mendietta and Cindy Sherman, she used her own body as an artistic medium to experience and capture (via photography and video) the continually changing and shifting nature of identity. With carefully selected examples of her work, the 'Merry Go Round' exhibition highlights the great diversity and different levels of Degrève's art and the coherence between its various phases (1984-2018).

In Degrève's performances the experience of physicality and sexuality and the metamorphosis of the expressive body are central. Every new performance unfolds from the moment of its first inception in a series of improvised variations, in which she explores space, whether naked, clothed or covered. Through an intense tactile experience and a strong sensory sensitivity, she seeks to discover the boundaries of the intimate body in both private and public space.

The movement created by duplication of mirror images and rotating is an important recurrent motif, which is encapsulated in the rhythmic and repeated development of patterns in various images. Other recurrent themes include the body as a house, the dress, nuts, hair, fur, lipstick and the colours fuchsia and red.

The starting point for her art is often her own biography or the exhibition space in which she is invited to display or perform. She gathers together remnants, memories and emotionally charged objects from familial or relational contexts. She then reworks, repairs and rearranges these autobiographical elements until they form a new construction. She also frequently adds other elements from her rich cultural baggage. In this way, she appropriates well-known figures from fairy tales, myths and stories (such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, Kaspar Hauser, etc.) and employs concepts and images from literature, art and film history, philosophy and psychology. With these various components, she creates a paradisiacal universe in which fundamental contradictions, such as life and death, beauty and revulsion, child-like innocence and perversity, the gentle and the violent, rub shoulders with each other.


Isabelle De Baets (curator)