Disgrace, 2009 review

Disgrace (2009) is a somewhat depreciative title of Kate Davis’ recent film and the accompanying suite of four drawings on pages torn out of a 1972 catalogue ‘The Drawings of Amedeo Modigliani’ that contains reproductions of the female nudes and portraits. The film physically engages with the book in several different ways. The opening image has the title of the film and artist’s name composed of letters cut out punk-style from the front cover of the book and laid out on the inside of the cover, with the book open on the frontispiece. The subtitle ‘1918 or 2008?’ and the film’s date ‘2008’ are handwritten in pencil. The book is laid in front of the camera on the surface covered with intense orange cloth. A succession of ten-second still frames ensues, all with the book open on the same two-page spread with Modigliani’s voluptuous ‘Nude Study’ in crayon on one page and the watercolour portrait of a (fully dressed and passively looking to the side) ’Young Girl Seated’ on opposing page, interspersed by ten-second frames of black, during which the viewer can hear a chorus rhythmically chanting, in dismay, ‘boo hoo’. In the sequences with the book open, we can see the artist’s own drawings amassing one by one over Modigliani’s nude – an outline of Davis’ own hand, various curves that can be interpreted as fragments of body parts – to cover it almost entirely. Their lines are bold and fragile, un-gracious, as if done very fast or by an untrained hand – and obviously mocking Modigliani’s mastery. To make the disgrace complete, one has to remember that Davis is known for her outstanding drawing skills, so her refusal here to compete with the master represents a controlled and staged suspension of her otherwise excellent craftsmanship. The last frame of the film shows the back cover of the book, which was published in ‘Master Draughtsman Series’, with a list of other artists in the series – all men, save for Käthe Kollwitz – while the ‘boo hoo’ is now spoken out by only one, female voice.

Kate Davis’ performative practice involves critical revisiting of canonical works by male modernist artists and participatory engagement developing from the feminist work and critique with the aim to articulate her own position as female artist working today. Davis initiates dialogues and collaborations. With Faith Wilding, she has been working on a project The Long Loch: How Do We Go On From Here? (forthcoming in 2010) that will include installations, online library and network of reading groups in collaboration with Glasgow Women’s Library. Barbara Kruger’s iconic piece Your Body is a Battleground (1989), became subject of Davis’ extensive new reading in her 2007 installation Your Body is a Battleground Still at Tate Britain. In 2 or 3 things I know about her (2009), Davis also drew on Carolee Schneemann’s performance Up to and Including Her Limits (first realized at The Kitchen, New York, 1973-1976) in a collaborative project with Jimmy Robert. Davis made a realistic drawing of the female artist’s naked body, suspended on rope and wearing a tree doctor’s harness to draw and write freely on walls of the space around her, radicalizing Pollock’s actions that resulted in static images into a performative act ecstatically expanding in four dimensions.

Adam Szymczyk