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Quality Street

Marie Rud Rosenzweig & Lulu Refn

PHOEBE (reading)

 

The lilies are her pretty thoughts,
Her shoulders are the may,
Her smiles are all forget-me-nots,
The path 's her gracious way,

 

The roses that do line it are
Her fancies walking round,
'Tis sweetly smelling lavender
In which my lady's gowned.

 

(MISS PHOEBE has thought herself strong, but she is not able to read such exquisite lines without betraying herself to a lover's gaze.)

The duo exhibition Quality Street at Alice Folker Gallery brings together works by Copenhagen based artists Marie Rud Rosenzweig and Lulu Refn. Contrasting in their materiality and first appearance – warm and earthy colored oil paintings (Rosenzweig) and cold and sleek sculptures with a high glossy finish (Refn) – the works show almost eerie similarities and connections at second glance. In the collaborative moment of storytelling, the works alternately take on the role of stage and protagonist.

 

In James M. Barrie's play from 1901, which is set in the Napoleonic era and from which the title of the duo exhibition by Marie Rud Rosenzweig and Lulu Refn is borrowed, two sisters establish a renowned school. A bachelor, of whom there are not many left on Quality Street, rejects one of the sisters, Phoebe, after his return from the war because of her aged appearance. In response, the women invent and embody a fictional character, their young and desirable niece that the man falls for. It is a classic narrative of patriarchy and its mechanisms and was such a success in theaters that a popular confectionery was named after the play. 

 

In her work Marie Rud Rosenzweig examines how objects and humans render themselves to a storyline. On her largest paintings to date you find a large-scale orange toy dog on wheels, a heavy make-up table, interiors like a staircase, several tools, and silhouettes of anonymous figures. The narrative, which influences the composition and vice versa, is inspired by a mixture of popular culture as well as objects and people from her private environment. This apparent and slightly distant and nostalgic familiarity of the everyday creates the Freudian effect of the uncanny. 

 

Lulu Refn’s sculptures are based on the British toys Meccano which were invented in 1898, the same period in which Barrie (who is better known for his childhood novel Peter Pan) wrote his play and a time marked by the upheavals, fears and hopes of industrialization. The era’s optimism translates to the at the same time child-friendly and mechanical forms and aesthetics of the classic toys. Refn is especially interested in mimicking function and the learning of construction in childhood that eventually leads to a need for over-construction in society. Her neutralized sculptures, painted white and reduced to form (a flower, a fence, a window), also refer to the Scandinavian understanding of design, which praises modular and basic furniture and has reached its cynical peak with IKEA. 

 

A recurring motif in both works is the cogwheel, an essential component in engineering technology to run a mechanism. They are a means of transmitting the rotational effect of a force from one part to another and symbolically stand for productivity. In Refn’s sculptures the cogwheel becomes a decorative, yet dysfunctional part of stylized flowers. In Rosenzweig’s paintings it serves as a decorative pattern and element on the flat picture plane as found on partially faded vintage wallpaper. 

 

In their duo presentation Rosenzweig and Refn reveal and deconstruct mechanisms and forms of construction in today’s consumer culture in a still patriarchal society: How to (de)construct beauty, how to (de)construct urban and domestic landscapes, how to (de)construct gender roles. One feels painfully reminded of the alarming social media “tradwife” trend that celebrates, romanticizes, and promotes the regressive and constructed image of the perfect traditional housewife: beautiful, efficient, basic – and sweet as a box of chocolates and toffees.

 

Text: Miriam Bettin 

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