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 built on this project, installing recent ceramics and a painting, alongside a new body of work that related her interest in utopian societies to the development of a secular Kurdish community in the Syrian region of Rojava. The community was 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 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 embodied 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 represented the first line of defense against ISIS in the region. Unlike the women of New Ponderosa, the women fighting in the Y.P.J. were real and echo the utopian feminist ideals Perret imagined. 

In addition to Sightings, Perret staged 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 was 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 was animated by dancer, Anja Schmidt, with vocals and music provided by singer, Tamara Barnett-Herrin, and musician, Beatrice Dillon, the performance cycled through an elaborate narrative that involved an Indian mystic, a 19th-century American Shaker, a 1950s computer programmer, an Artificial Intelligence, and a journalist. The staging of the piece recalled the Japanese style of puppetry known as bunraku, in which the manipulators appeared on stage alongside the puppets, providing a parallel performance of real and artificial bodies in motion. 

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



The Sightings series is generously sponsored by Lara and Stephen Harrison.
Sightings: Mai-Thu Perret was supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and FABA Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte.