SHAVING THE CATERPILLAR: Ileana Pașcalău
While exploring the times when the female malady was seen as a curiosity, Ileana Pașcalău's artistic process becomes a commemorative practice, remembering several sick women narratives, whose disease transformed their bodies for more than one century into a field of dehumanizing experiments, done by men in the name of science.
Shaving the Caterpillar unfolds a “hysterical surrealist” universe filled with hyperreal objects, installa- tions and drawings, a witty and wise aesthetization of multiple violent experiments done on a woman’s body in the name of science.
Ileana Pașcalău’s artistic research questions on how sexual difference was constructed move her through the ways the female body was regulated, disciplined and controlled by means of medicine, rather than helped, healed or cured, until the beginning of the 20th century. In the flame of the European Enlightenment, assumptions about the dual nature of everything, including the body and the mind, med- icine’s attempt to “relieve” the pain of mental suffering produced in fact the exact opposite effect, en- hancing trauma and sexual inhibition. Ileana Pașcalău’s work explores parts of the history of the female “deviant,” reworking the objects of male study into transgressive pieces of female desire. The exhibition Shaving the Caterpillar stages a theatricalized museification of the so-called female mystery, stealing and queering some very serious male researchers’ work.
Starting with the renewed interest for women’s anatomy in the 18th century, a time that witnessed the representation of the first female skeleton and too many theories about the dangerous attributes of the uterus, doctors allowed themselves a closer and closer look upon the nature of the “second sex.” Medical concerns, nourished continuously by social anxieties regarding the reproductive responsibilities of women, moved throughout the 19th century beyond bodily afflictions, towards a “hygienics” of the mind. It was a time when medicine was a tool for regulating women’s behavior and controlling their bodies and thoughts. From its first representation in 1796 to the invention of hysteria in the 1880s, the arch of the female spine measured the flexible boundary between observation and imagination in medical research. Ileana Pașcalău appropriates medical observations, confuses and changes them into artistic objects of fantasy, of desire and pleasure. Exaggerated body parts, anatomical absurdities or little mistakes are extracted from the patriarchal pain narratives and transformed into feminist beauty. From gestures to layers, textures, shapes, symbols or the chosen materials ranging from medical sciences to BDSM or other perverse sexualities, Shaving the Caterpillar induces a libidinal space between dark room and torture chamber, softly reminding us why our bodies “are a battleground” (Barbara Kruger). While exploring the times when the female malady was seen as a curiosity, Ileana Pașcalău’s artistic process becomes a commemorative practice, remembering several sick women’s narratives, whose disease transformed their bodies, for more than one century, into a field of dehumanizing experiments, done by men in the name of science. Learning, remembering, unlearning and transforming are tools for a radical encounter with the history of medicine. In Ileana’s words, her work “shall act as forensic instruments meant to reveal new facts in the gynecide that culminated at the dawn of the previous century with the imprison- ment of numerous women in mental asylums.”
Valentina Iancu, curator