Iman Issa on the Violence of Renée Green’s Upholstery Fabrics

‘Green’s installation doesn’t exist to serve as evidence of well-established narratives’

Renée Green, Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile, 1992–94, installation view, Pat Hearn Gallery, New York. Courtesy: Free Agent Media

Renée Green, Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile, 1992–94, installation view, Pat Hearn Gallery, New York. Courtesy: Free Agent Media

I have always thought that the power of Renée Green’s Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile lies in assigning intention to objects that are usually treated as mute remnants from the past. The artist printed typical 18th-century French upholstery fabric with violent scenes of enslavement and then covered furniture and wallpaper with it. The fabric is foreign to its context, not because it portrays an under- represented history, nor because it switches this history around by exchanging its players’ roles (for example, by portraying blacks lynching whites), but because – regardless of its accuracy – it refuses to read history nas something in the past. Green’s installation doesn’t exist to serve as evidence of well- established narratives, nor does it accept a distance from the present by virtue of being a ‘mere’ display. It is alive and wilfully screams its own difficult-to-decipher messages. It does this using the walls, plinths and polished floors on which it is placed – a space from which we would least expect such a flow of pulsing, intentional speech to emanate, but which seems perfectly fitting for it.

Published in Frieze Masters, issue 7, 2018, with the title ‘Artist's Artists’.

Iman Issa lives in Berlin, Germany. She has participated in recent exhibitions at Spike Island, Bristol, UK, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Germany, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, and GaMEC, Bergamo, Italy. Her latest publication is Book of Facts: A Proposition (2017).

Issue 7

First published in Issue 7

September 2018

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