Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret

March 12, 2016 - July 17, 2016

Swiss-born Mai-Thu Perret has spent the last 16 years making work based on a fictional feminist art commune she created called The Crystal Frontier. The imaginary women of New Ponderosa live in autonomy in the New Mexico desert and make work that runs the visual gamut, from the painterly to the sculptural, often employing the aesthetic tropes of Modernism and aligning the work with utopian Modernist movements.  

For Sightings, Perret builds on this project, installing recent ceramics and a painting, alongside a new body of work that relates her interest in utopian societies to the recent development of a secular Kurdish community in the Syrian region of Rojava. The community has been described as a utopia for its championing of women as leaders and practice of democracy among its inhabitants in the middle of war-torn territory. Perret has made eight life-size figures in a variety of media—papier-mâché, ceramic, latex—and outfitted them in uniforms and gear appropriate for soldiers. Perret’s figures represent the women fighting in all-female militia groups known as the Y.P.J. or Female Protection Units, a branch of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units who represent the first line of defense against ISIS in the region. Unlike the women of New Ponderosa, the women fighting in the Y.P.J. are real and echo the utopian feminist ideals Perret imagined. 

In addition to Sightings, Perret will stage two performances in collaboration with the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Family Soluna Music & Arts Festival on June 2 and 4, 2016. The first performance will be a re-staging of a work entitled Figures, originally performed at the 2014 Biennale of Moving Images in Geneva. Featuring a life-sized marionette whose body is animated by dancer, Anja Schmidt, with vocals and music provided by singer, Tamara Barnett-Herrin, and musician, Beatrice Dillon, the performance cycles through an elaborate narrative that involves an Indian mystic, a 19th-century American Shaker, a 1950s computer programmer, an Artificial Intelligence, and a journalist. The staging of the piece recalls the Japanese style of puppetry known as bunraku, in which the manipulators appear on stage alongside the puppets, providing a parallel performance of real and artificial bodies in motion. 

Perret’s second performance is a newly commissioned piece entitled o that will function as a series of happenings throughout the Nasher’s building and garden. The artist plans to explore the idea of collective identity through processional movement and again will collaborate with Dillon, Schmidt, and Barnett-Herrin to develop a rhythmic composition that will be performed by students of the Southern Methodist University.


The Sightings series is generously sponsored by Lara and Stephen Harrison.

Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret is supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and FABA Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte.