As society evolves in its structure and organization, its generated information and data must be both systematically archived and preserved. The ever-growing complexity of the modern capitalistic world, alongside the rise of technology, has shifted power structures’ location. If once authority and power were once lodged within physical strength and material possession, nowadays, they dwell in knowledge. Archiving, owning, claiming, and disseminating data, – especially those threatening such hierarchies – subsequently become the foundation on which power resides. However, those to whom the information refers, and those who own it, do not always share the same boat.
The rise of public awareness of individual information was in fact crucial to the women’s liberation movement in the 60s. Documenting and sharing intimate life experiences made it clear that what had seemed to be personal difficulties were actually structural and systemic. ¹
Speaking of this, I had the chance to interview artist Murielle Gräff, an emerging conceptual artist based in Switzerland, whose work rotates around documentation, taboos, and graphical representation. As we will see, information is a crucial aspect of her practice.
Gräff’s minimal and rational predilection led her to begin a study in architecture, which she later abandoned as “too little space was given for artistic interpretation.” She now holds a bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the University of Arts in Zurich, and just concluded a group show at the Helmhaus entitled “vertrauen” (translation from German for “trusting”).
Sharing authentic sexual consent
Hidden behind the private sphere, a dramatic number of unreported sexual harassment and rape take place within marriages and relationships. In this work, which was shown at Helmhaus in Zurich, Gräff deliberately displayed her own consensual sexual activity within the time frame of her Bachelor work as a way to put into the spotlight the importance of such data. What goes reported and what doesn’t? What is the narrative we want to release to the world? Which are the silent numbers we do not hear about? The audience is invited to acknowledge their own intimate lives in relation to the artist’s and question the meaning of consent, time exposure and vulnerability.
Her uncompromisingly forthright work, often supported by a short written description, quickly catches the audience’s understanding, thus finding common approbation. The apparent lack of subjective interpretation found in Gräff’s work demonstrates a shrewd technique to disclose issues of critical matter, tackling taboos and the status quo.
Nonetheless, Gräff’s documentation lies between what she describes as “the sweet spot between scientific research and creative expression”, as scientific visualization would limit the artist’s choice in the process and the outcome she desires.
I am a very complicated woman
“I am a very complicated woman” is a collaborative artwork with Samantha Zuagg. The two artists analyzed their own personal experiences with contraception pills by placing in comparison to market research on the drugs in Switzerland today. The phrases, directly transcribed from their personal diaries, clearly depict the life of a typical young woman; the emotional, physical and psychological challenges she finds herself facing. On the other hand, a long list of contraceptive pills labeled with names commonly associated with women, aims to expose the pharmaceutic enterprises on which millions of women depend. The work was part of the “Rausch” exhibition by Etwas Kollektiv, Zentralwäscherei, Zürich.
In this work, Gräff merges conventional gender-based qualities into one single object. The antithesis of a simple brick covered in rhinestones cunningly suggests the irony of today’s stereotypical dualistic thinking when it comes to gender and identity. Can a heavy, strong and steady brick be as delicate, expensive and alluring as diamonds? Inspired by the new principles of third-wave feminism and pop culture, the artist urges the audience to reflect on the role of binary classification and the meaning of self-expression.
Needless to say, technology also plays a big role in data collection. As it pushes us into the new digital reality like that of the metaverse, the ability to collect, and exploit, today’s surfeit of information as a form of monetary profit has become a standard business model around the globe. The pursuit for big data, open data, – you name it! – must be taken into the public consciousness as a way to shape preferable, equitable and sustainable futures. In her own way, Gräff also aims to address the topic through creative processes. By shifting away from the capitalistic business model and the elitist art world, the artist is on a mission to democratize information. Perhaps, it is in this practice itself where the strength of a universal language like that of art and the ability to observe the world with equanimity can be the starting point for a new feminist-led movement on the quest to build a better, egalitarian tomorrow.
- Lauren Fournier, Autotheory as Feminist Practice in Art, Writing, and Criticism, 2021