Lili Reynaud-Dewar - Power play
Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s new installation explores social structures through the lost profession of shorthand typists. She discusses her practice with Talitha Kotzé
French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar flirts with the power struggles between futuristic ideals and outdated technology. Fetishising analogue technology in a digital age, she will tease viewers by setting up a seductive installation based on the lost profession of shorthand-typists and the obsolete practice of stenography.
Reynaud-Dewar has used the site specificity of Mary Mary’s office-like ceiling as a starting point for her show. Viewers can expect to see sculptures and objects that were used in her recent performance on the French coast featuring two typists, one shorthand-typist and a young man assisting them, two wooden cages, two sets of desks and office chairs, two typewriters and a generator. In the same vein as French writer and film director Marguerite Duras’ theatre performances, Reynaud-Dewar prefers to speak of her silent performance as a ‘fixed happening’.
The power structures, rituals and sexuality of the European Shorthand-typist conjures up conflicting images: women in mini skirts and high heels, with upright postures obediently typing away, but at the same time earning a wage to buy time and independence. Reynaud-Dewar, however, doesn’t want to show either female emancipation or stereotype: ‘I am more interested in how we can misuse objects and deviate techniques to produce different experiences – humorous or ritualistic, narrative or completely useless and radically unproductive. Focusing on an obsolete technology, into which so many women were trained during the 20th century, seems like a good standpoint for such a project.’
The artist draws inspiration from a variety of sources: from Italian designer Etore Sottsass, who helped make office equipment fashionable (he made his name in the 1960s with the iconic red Valentine typewriter); radical Architecture firm Superstudio; Donna Haraway’s cyborg feminism and her writing on how machines can contribute to liberation; through to French filmmaker Jean Rouch’s semi-fictitious ethno-fiction.
Reynaud-Dewar explains that these thinkers all make use of mass produced objects or mainstream media to develop their ideas: ‘It is a Trojan Horse strategy, consisting of using an apparently innocuous object to develop complex theories about the ritual, the magic, the utopia, and the future. Jean Rouch used cinema to produce ethnological research, Donna Haraway put her feminist manifesto online from the very beginning of the internet, Superstudio and Sottsass worked for the design industry and produced a series of tables and chairs for everyday usage.’
In Jean Rouch’s film Petit à Petit of 1971 there is a scene in which a young woman is seated behind a desk and a typewriter, locked in a wooden cage by the sea. She seems very happy. ‘This is an enigmatic and short scene’, says Reynaud-Dewar, ‘but it says a lot about work, class, gender, and the impact of objects on our bodies. As an object producer operating in a very restricted field – I make sculpture – I am very interested in this relationship between the social, constructed body and the object, whether it be mass produced or unique.’
By employing anachronistic juxtapositions, her work creates an anthropological documentary about the aesthetics of technology at work. A generation ago we were trained in stenography, now we learn Word, Access and Excel. What will this tell future audiences about our own power structures, rituals and sexuality?
Lili Reynaud-Dewar: The Power Structures, Rituals & Sexuality of the European Shorthand-Typists, Mary Mary, Glasgow, until Sat 3 Oct.