À mon seul désir at Pangée in Montreal, QC 2023
Anne Carson writes that the trajectory of Eros always traces the same route. Its arrow pierces us; it carves out a hole inside us. Most love poems, of course, aren't about being loved; they're about the hole.
In Rose Nestler's exhibition, desire doesn't just split apart a gap, it carves out an opening. It's a thrilling orifice, a pair of hardwood gates enclosing a dollhouse. It's a curtain pulled open; a pistil nestled inside a leather-crafted flower; the vagina at the centre of a woman accused of witchcraft. As recounted in folklore at the time of the witch trials across Europe, witches would masturbate with their broomsticks coated in plant-based psychoactive ointments. That way, they could fly—by sticking the denatured symbols of domesticity right between their thighs.
If we do penetrate that orifice formed by desire, we find ourselves inside a purse—this cartoonish rendition of a uterus, a deluxe object that resembles a bird nest. Nestler's handbags are adorned with fried eggs dripping across their surfaces. Just like egg yolks, desire is runny—it is fleeting and elusive. We can never quite grab it, like a shiny red apple that taunts us from high up on its branch.
According to poet Cecila Pavon, “There ought to be as many desires as shapes: square, arrow-shaped, round, triangle, pointed, edged, vertical, undone, inanimate.” There are even desires that run their course, like Nestler's flaccid stone unicorn's horn, something like a broken high heel.
À mon seul désir takes up this mythical creature as its centrepiece, as Nestler has drawn part of her inspiration from a renowned tapestry, The Lady and the Unicorn. Dating back to the 15th century, the tapestry is enigmatic. An uncertain discourse surrounds the scene of a unicorn, a lion, a lady and a blue tent depicted on the wall hanging. On it, there's an inscription: “À mon seul désir”. But what is the unique desire in question?
If we try to decode the scene, we're sent back to a puzzle of our own. What do we desire? Why do we create? It's these prickly questions that utilitarian thought fails to answer. The further we probe our desires, the closer we get to death.
This is why death permeates Nestler's work. She presents flowers in leather, a macabre material. Still, this dead flesh is colourful enough to appear living. Nestler stirs up an eroticism in precisely the space that life and death blend together, a theme that spans the array of her work and gives it its singularity.
Nestler understands that desire is, foremost, a question that, once posed, draws us through a tunnel. Desire thrusts us toward death, another secret place.
Text by by Daphné B,
translation by Catherine Fatima