Ajuar para un conquistador
(Trousseau for a conqueror)
detail: pullover, socks, and scarf for flamingo
merino wool and button
is one of a new generation of artists in Argentina who live the aftermath
of almost ten years of dictatorship. As a result of this history, much
contemporary art in Argentina deals with issues of identity on both the
personal and collective levels. As Argentinean-art scholar David Elliot
n such contexts the word "identity" has, riding on its back, an implicit meaning of "new" or "better" because as old empires (real and metaphorical) have fallen, new structures have had painstakingly to be built in their place. In such environments the search, or battle, for identities has become an expression of hope as well as of disillusionment. 1
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art & Design introduces-for the first time in the United States-the work of Mónica Girón, an artist whose work has been informed and enriched by her background in a unique area of the world: Patagonia.
Patagonia is the southernmost region of South America, shared by the countries of Chile and Argentina. It offers a striking contrast of land forms, from dense forests and deserts to grasslands and glaciers. This topographical variety houses a large number of rare bird species. Many are endangered but have managed to survive to date, despite the century-long appropriation of grasslands by sheep farmers. In 1893, the newly established Exploitation Society of Tierra del Fuego leased 3.5 million acres of grassland and became the largest sheep-farming organization in the world. 2Its aggressive use of natural resources has placed many local species of birds at risk of extinction.
Mónica Girón creates protective clothing for a number of birds found in Patagonia. Life-size sweaters, leggings, mittens, and gloves make up her installation Trousseau for a Conqueror . The word "trousseau" in the context of her work goes beyond its common definition: the clothing that a bride assembles for her marriage. Girón's knitted garments are presented as a gift from or to either party: animal or conqueror. The garments are a symbol of an imposed new life; "the birds were wedded to a new situation" that arose when sheep ranchers seized the land. 3
At first glance, the clothes bear a humorous aspect. One wonders why someone would knit clothes for birds: what is the purpose of this idea? These questions do not have one simple answer. Girón's garments, which echo the color and body forms of the birds, are the key to understanding this installation. Mónica Girón does not present the birds' bodies, but rather exhibits their "clothing," from which the dialogue between the pieces and the viewer begins. In her artist's statement, Girón reveals one of the motivations behind this body of work:
Trousseau for a Conqueror was knitted as a reflection on the Museo de la Patagonia built in San Carlos de Bariloche around 1940. The Museum commemorated the definite military conquest over the Patagonian inhabitants. It exhibited in hierarchical scale Argentinean military apparel and depictions of the battles; embalmed local animals and birds, fragments of stones, trees, and earth samples, and remains of the exterminated native cultures.
In recent years, however, the Museo de la Patagonia has reorganized its entire concept of presentation. It no longer presents the Patagonian territory as a trophy of colonization, but rather as a part of a process of two different cultures blending and clashing. In this same way, Girón's garments also become a reflection on presentation. Her work presents the relationship of two very different groups of beings-birds and sheep ranchers-blending and clashing as they attempt to coexist.
In addition, the garments allude to multiple dimensions of protection: that which protects to sustain a species' existence; and that which over protects to result in its destruction. The artist refers to her knitted garments as "devises that permit the survival of bodies not prepared for cold temperatures, or devises that, because of their foreign quality, could eventually destroy the birds." 4Going even further, Girón's work suggests that protection is also related to the act of conquering, in that a conqueror may take control of a subject out of love, patriotism, faith, and so on, with no thought to probable consequences.
All of Mónica Girón's work deals with themes of identity, migration, colonization, and transculturation. Patagonia's unique landscape has always had a strong presence in her artistic expression. She extracts characteristic elements of the region and uses them as metaphors in her work. In previous pieces, such as acrylic paintings on canvas, Girón revealed the power of the land over humankind. In a painting of a ship enclosed and trapped by a glacier, she expresses the hardships of those who arrived from Europe to an unknown land. The opposite message comes through in Trousseau for a Conqueror , now exhibited at the Kemper Museum. This installation acknowledges mankind's power over nature, a power that has led to the endangerment and extinction of many species that once thrived.
Mónica Girón was born in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. She is also a Swiss citizen by descent, and studied in Switzerland from 1979 to 1984. Both her artistic and personal education are strongly European, as a result of her family's background and Argentina's idiosyncratic status as the most European country of South America.
Trousseau for a Conqueror is a product of an inquisitive mind, of someone who has been able to see the situation of her country from both outsider and insider perspectives. Mónica Girón simultaneously questions the roles of conqueror and conquered, and presents to us, the viewers, objects loaded with significance and questions.
-Sandra L. Rodriguez