Imagining a future beyond existing binaries is integral to Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s work. With an ongoing attentiveness to questions of identity and performance, the French artist’s exhibition TEETH, GUMS, MACHINES, FUTURE, SOCIETY, looks at how bodies both carry history and respond to place.
Showing at Monash University Museum of Art, the exhibition includes film and expanded installation, and is rooted in Reynaud-Dewar’s travels to Memphis, USA. “It’s a speculative work essentially,” says senior curator Hannah Mathews. “It grows out of the city of Memphis and its history of rap culture and the civil rights movement.”
During her visits, Reynaud-Dewar became interested in tooth jewellery known as teeth grills (or grillz) as a status symbol in rap culture. To elucidate the history and cultural implications of teeth grills, she gathered a group of four local stand-up comedians to perform, each wearing a set of grills. But, as an outsider looking in, Reynaud-Dewar also considers an emancipatory understanding of teeth grills: their transcendent value in deflating the binaries and discriminations that surround us.
As the film progresses, the artist converges teeth grills with a performance of Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto.
“Lili’s interested in the body, and the economy and the agency of the body,” explains Mathews. “She links this [the grills] with Haraway’s manifesto, which looks at a future in which we move beyond binaries; beyond male and female, black and white, animal and human: it’s beyond sexuality, beyond race.”
With the film threading musical legacy, civil rights, the body and the emancipatory figure of the cyborg, Mathews sees the radical potential for freer ways of existing. “Lili’s work looks towards the future,” she says. “It’s a speculative proposition that she’s making, but it’s crucial these speculations are made. How else do we move forward?”