Comprising newly commissioned video, sculpture, print, and text-based works, the exhibition inspired by French writer Rachilde’s Monsieur Venus: A Materialist Novel closed on Sunday. First published in Belgium in 1884, Monsieur Venus describes a relationship between Raoule de Vénérande, a masculine aristocratic woman, and Jacques Silvert, a working class boy who becomes her mistress. Together, aided by Jacque’s sister Marie and Raoule’s friend the Baron de Raittolbe, the couple invert their genders, acting out a love fuelled by perverse innovation and tinged with sexual jealousy, conservatism and class power. In the end, however, the novel’s overarching Victorian morality falls upon its characters, and everyone is punished for their transgressions.
For Jamie Crewe, the novel’s frequent and nuanced cruelty complicates any wholly positive identification with the lead characters, who may at first seem like prototypes of modern-day transgender figuration. However, aspects of the novel still speak lucidly to contemporary trans experience, touching on issues that remain urgent, such as fraught relations with visibility and authenticity, pervasive experiences of trauma, and the threat of punishment and harm. Grappling with this painful ambivalence, Female Executioner stages, reworks and misreads the positive and negative, radical and moralising aspects of Monsieur Venus in relation the artist’s own personal history and experience of transness. In Jamie’s own words, “seething under its own references” the exhibition “tries to touch the past, and is struck by the past in response.”