Elyse Pignolet: You Should Calm Down
Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles
through November 2
Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Calm down. Every woman has been told this at some point, almost always when they are exhibiting a mere modicum of completely justifiable rage or frustration. It only makes things worse, obviously. It’s enough to make a grown woman want to throw a plate at someone’s head. Or in the case of Elyse Pignolet, hundreds of plates. And vases.
In her current solo show of new work at Track 16, Elyse Pignolet combines the most delicate of decorative motifs and materials — Delft-style painted ceramics and decorative antique-style wallpaper — with a series of linguistic samples that create a certain cognitive dissonance, to say the least. In cheeky opposition to the sophisticated but still slightly folksy jauntiness with which she renders elaborate freehand patterns of flowers and vines, Pignolet deploys words and phrases that point to a pointed feminist critique flush with both social anger and wry humor.
On plates, platters, chic vases, drawings, prints, and across the 500+ individual tiles that makes up the “I AM a WOMAN” mural at the center of the installation, Pignolet inveighs us to consider everything from “It’s just going to be girl talk” and “Good girl / Bad girl” to “She was asking for it,” “You should smile more,” “Slut,” and 45’s infamous statement about his good friend, the now-dead sex offender Jeffrey Epstein that reads in part, “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” The latter is inscribed on a drawing of a porcelain vase, ornate and curvaceous, filled with smudged but still lovely reddish flowers. It’s grotesque, made all the more so by being offset against an aesthetic accomplishment of old-timey, archetypally feminine, beauty.
The installation constitutes an almost immersive expanse of calming, super-femme blue and white, filled to an abstract density with curling tendrils and budding blossoms, with vibrantly inked lines and luminous white porcelain catching the light and delighting the eye. But the staccato of absurd, offensive words and evidence of implicit cultural bias and institutional misogyny punctuates the cool trellises with tiny hot flashes of recognition and dismay. The contrast between the beauty and the beastliness takes immediate hold of the imagination, and the trick works every single time, in no small part because the semantic violence does in fact so often coexist within nostalgia for “simpler times” and the emotional veneer of traditional domestic spaces behind which lowkey and hot-headed abuse of women is as pervasive as dinnerware.