La remise dormante (Le lavoir de Vanvey)
Françoise Naudet, president of the Association des Sept vallées in Haute Côte d'Or, who has passed away, wants to save the village washhouses from indifference. It is at the origin of the awareness that leads, among other things, to the organization of a tour as part of the European Leader II program. The Local Action Group chaired by Martine Eap-Dupin, General Councillor and Mayor of Précy-sur-Thil with the support of Jacqueline Bosset-Chauvière at the Côte d'Or General Council, supports this project of the Fondation de France. Thirteen villages are concerned by the restorations and nine works are commissioned for the washhouses of eight of them. In addition, there is a photographic commission, which is reflected in a book. The entire operation is supported by Whirlpool (Daniel Payan).
Visitors walking around in the left-hand part of the wash house, devoid incidentally of any visible work by the artist, set off a sound device. Women's voices can be heard in the space with only a few snatches of sentences audible, while the presence of this fictional conversation, a kind of incantatory litany, introduces a sense of time in which past, present and fiction mingle. What past is conjured up (customs, tales, legends)? What story is being woven here? Drawing close to the grille on the shed located on the right has something of enchantment about it as an immense tasselled chandelier then lights up. Soft toys suspended upside down by strings and fragments of mirror are associated with it. Metaphors of humanity, the dolls establish a bridge between childhood and death. Inoffensive objects that are yet mistreated, ridiculous effigies, what expiation can this be? As she often does in her art, Messager links plastic art and writing. When she received the commission she wrote La Remise dormante: Suspended round a very splendid shimmering chandelier hung with crystals, imps, buffoons, masked soft toys seem to have seized the old shut-up, abandoned shed. As in a fairy tale, strange ceremonies take place round the crystal chandelier... There chimerical creatures would have been taken in there by Mother LOUSINE. This lady, now an ugly old woman, now a beautiful and attractive one, is depicted as a sort of beast who lives in sheds, wells and wash houses... When a moonbeam or a sunray enters the shed and produces a shimmering patch, they say that it is Mother Lousine dancing with the soft toys and telling her life story... Unease and fairy tale mingle in a setting that condenses a number of the artist's earlier creative works.
The mediator suggested bringing in Annette Messager with whom he had already collaborated on several occasions. Two solo exhibitions by the artist were in fact programmed at the Le Consortium art centre in Dijon, one in 1980, the other in 1988 (the year when she first used soft toys as an art material). She has been active since the early 1970s, developing a protean body of work concerning women and their relationship to society. Starting with visual and language-based representations supported by different media — photographs, captions, standards, imaginary constructions —, she places each of her works between reality and fiction. Starting from ordinary activities (sewing, collecting, taking photographs, knitting...), she creates personal rules of play to elaborate installations in which specific and emblematic objects from her art (stuffed animals, spikes, photographs, soft toys) are manipulated in ways that are both playful and cruel. It is a matter pinning down the shortcomings, the denials, the pretences of the world by transforming our apprehension of all too often denigrated popular everyday life. Messager works out an inventory of the most harmless and everyday intimate practices to project them into the public sphere by revealing their universal dimension in a macabre yet enchanting way.