Claire Morgan: I only dared to touch you once I knew that you were dead
Galerie Karsten Greve Paris
Dienstag - Samstag 10 - 19 Uhr
am Samstag, den 4. November 2023 von 18 - 20 Uhr
in Anwesenheit der Künstlerin.
Being alive can be beautiful and horrific. Every living thing is in this state of constant transition. I am intrigued by those simultaneous senses of spiritual communion and unpalatable intrusion that come about through awareness of our connectedness, and of our vulnerability.
Galerie Karsten Greve is pleased to present Claire Morgan’s new exhibition, held at our Parisian gallery. "I only dared to touch you once I knew that you were dead" is the artist’s first series of figurative works in which women are central figures alongside animals. Featuring more than thirty new works – paintings, installations, sculptures, drawings and prints – the exhibition explores vulnerability and fear of the unknown. It evokes the era of mass extinction we are entering, inviting us to think about our own role in this collective act of destruction.
Claire Morgan, known for excelling in the creation of complex compositions featuring seeds, plants, insects, taxidermy and multicoloured plastic waste, has now added the human form to her artistic vocabulary. In this exhibition, the diversity of techniques is apparent in the use of bodily fluids collected during taxidermy for her drawings, the sculptures made of wax, fabric and animal skin and fur, and the ambitious, large-scale pastels on wood panels, which depict the complex and shifting relationship between a woman and a fox.
Each image shows a tender interaction between a living woman and a dead fox. Each shadow, though directly related to its associated image, hints at another hidden presence, darkly comical, frightening, vulgar, violent or shameful.
“I only dared to touch you once I knew that you were dead”, the central spine of the exhibition from which everything else has grown, is the result of experimentation with writing and printmaking. It consists of seven drawings and two handwritten texts that form a dialogue between a living woman and a dead fox. The slow passage of time, which marks the cyclical forces of nature, is palpable in the accordion-fold book. The work evokes osmosis and porosity between skins.
The works on wood panels, with scenes closely linked to that central book, portray an intimate relationship of mutual support between the figures, progressing in a subjective reality of deceptive appearances. Just like the shadows, the presence of the fox, an animal that crops up frequently in Claire Morgan’s work and that symbolises cunning, questions identity and the reliability of representations. The fox’s ability to survive and thrive in difficult conditions attests to its capacity for resilience and adaptability. In a relationship that challenges the roles of dominant and dominated, in which identities and realities are shifting, each offers something to the other. Within a troubling intimacy, beings, living or dead, seek to cultivate an immutable bond by watching out for each other. The wounded figures are united in their vulnerability, are in communion through the fragility of their bodies. By working with a life model, Claire Morgan sought to explore rather unnatural, uncomfortable positions involving direct contact with the skin of a fox, to cradle it, support it, explore it and listen to it. The process required a great deal of trust, patience and endurance.
In her installations, the primal contact with fur, once living, awakens an instinctive vital force alternately reassuring and threatening. Like boatmen or messengers, the dead animals allow us to interact with the afterlife, to enter a space that was previously inaccessible. Throughout the exhibition, Claire Morgan’s works transcend the boundaries between fragility and strength, beauty and repulsion.
As well as mastering several mediums, the Irish artist captures the emotional resonance of the ephemeral in her work. In her mobiles, dead birds seem caught up in a moment of eternal suspension, attached so delicately that they seem to be in perpetual motion. In another work, a woman with outstretched hands holds a horizontal rope to which bird skins are tied. It is unclear whether the goal is to cover her own vulnerable body, to present them to us, or to make them fly again.
Mircea Eliade wrote, “As far as death is concerned, rites are all the more complex as death is not only a natural occurrence – life, or the soul, leaving the body – but a change of state both ontological and social: the deceased must face certain challenges that concern their own destiny beyond the grave, as well as win recognition from the community of the dead and find acceptance among them”.
Claire Morgan does not, therefore, seek to beautify the skins of dead animals, nor to give them the illusion of life, but rather to accentuate their critical state through the use of vacant skins. Through a lesson in humility, respect and communion between the creatures of this world, her work interrogates our finitude, in a way that is reminiscent of vanitas, by touching upon deep and universal themes such as the ephemeral nature of life, the complex relations between beings and the unrelenting passage of time.