About this artwork
Renée Green’s Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile is a constructed interior scene that evokes the material and social histories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, while serving as a pivotal example of the artist’s conceptual and iterative approach to installation. Green sets the stage of her anachronistic period room with pastel-pink floral wallpaper, drapery, and an upholstered stool; sculptural props and archival curiosities; and a music box labeled “Ambience” emitting an 18th-century baroque French melody. The connective tissue of Green’s décor is a French textile known as toile, a decorative fabric featuring idyllic pastoral vignettes originally imported from Southeast Asia in the 17th century. While in residency in Clisson, France in 1991, Green began researching the relationship between the production of toile in France and the region’s participation in the triangular colonial trade routes between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile, Green demystifies the social relations surrounding the fabric’s production, subtly imbuing it with the stuff of its own making—horrific scenes of enslavement and uprisings in French colonies. Transitioning from the wall to the floor and from the ornamental to the archival, Green positions three card file boxes, scaled to the body, on the ground in a triangle formation. Slotted within are cards chronicling the names of French slave ships, the languages Africans spoke upon boarding, and the active years of the enterprise; their dense organization emulates the way in which African bodies were serially filed into vessels crossing the Atlantic. Motorized toy boats circle endlessly in empty basins connecting the three points, suggesting that the triangle trade continues to spin the wheels of global capitalism and that the colonial past is a constant specter of the present.
Since the early 1990s Renée Green’s multidisciplinary practice has manifested in complex, research-driven installations—combining text, image, object, and time-based media—that build upon strategies and histories of Conceptual art and institutional critique from the 1960s and 1970s. Mise-en-scene: Commemorative Toile is a key example, as Green takes up what Belgian conceptualist Marcel Broodthaers (1924–1976) termed esprit décor, staging the interior scene as a site for questioning the ways in which history is constructed, displayed, and inhabited in domestic and institutional settings. At once site-specific and diffuse, the work accumulates new meaning as it populates shifting exhibition contexts; the artist’s installations using toile have toured Europe and the United States in various configurations, occupying the wall, furniture, and even bodies. Referred to by writer Joe Wood as a “one-woman diaspora,” Green’s expansive artworks map global cultural flows across multiple timelines, from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the international appropriation of hip-hop. As the title and strategies of Mise-en-scène suggest, the artist’s critical stagecraft implicates viewers into unfolding dramas in which fact and fiction, public recollection and private memory collide.
- Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- Renée Green
- Mise-en-scène: Commemorative Toile
- United States
- Mixed Media
- Dimensions variable
- Claire and Gordon Prussian Fund for Contemporary Art