Opening: September 05th 2024 - 6pm to 9pm
September 05 - October 26, 2024

From Dancing Queen to Drama Queen, it’s just one step.

The lights have been turned back on, the watered-down night is dissipating and giving way to disillusionment. What no one could see, in the strobe-like half-light and its artificial haze, was the sonic, emotional emanations of teenage music, reveals itself to us with a slight dissonance. The usually immaculate white walls are entirely covered with silver fringed curtains, a festive pop object worthy of an American prom. Reflecting the lights of the night, these beautiful curtains, now lit by the gallery’s neon lights, are nothing more than cheap, kitschy decorations.

This installation then reveals 7 somewhat atypical portraits. You can almost hear the pathetic cries coming from the large image on the right-hand wall. This image is perhaps the figuration of a feeling captured, in a moment of distress under pressure, of total breakdown. Girls crying, in the midst of an existential crisis. Others breaking down. A moment that should have been the consecration of the role expected of them: perfect, smiling girls in sportswear bearing the effigy of their high school, performing an acro-gym figure sensually revealing the folds of their thighs: the ultimate symbol of victory. But they failed. They’ve literally fallen, and the grace of their movements collapses with them. A girl on the phone takes a balloon to the head. The viewer can only anticipate the pathetic (and no less funny) fate of poor Gretchen (Mean Girls, 2004). In a moment, her assertive posture will be ridiculously disfigured. From now on, the only thing left to do is to mope on the sofa in pyjamas, swallow a can of whipped cream and dream of being Jessica Alba (dressed as Jessica Simpson). Breakdowns, too, require their own special attire and attitude.

Morgane Ely overturns the pedestal on which the Queen of the Ball sits to finally raise up all those whose evening ended badly. The ones nobody invited to be her date and who, once the party was over, resigned themselves to Buzzy Lee’s remix of « Girls Just Want to Have Fun ». Those whose hearts are broken by a crush who has finally fallen for someone else. Those whose dresses have torn while dancing and who feel completely ridiculous. Yet this staging is a celebration of fallen queens, whose portraits are adorned with the only vestige of the party: the glittering curtains. Are they not the tears on prom night? Assuming defeat and laughing about it, glorifying vulnerability tinged with melancholy. Failures are ultimately successes in the making, and Morgane Ely chooses to celebrate them to remind us of this.

This exhibition might be a feminist allegory then: these female figures will not be slaves to the image we expect of them (Morgane Ely, Britney Spears shaving her head bald (2007), 2021). There will be no injunction to show women as flawless creatures, adorned with a smooth smile, frozen in a moment of perfection and beauty. “So you’re breaking up with me because I’m too blonde?” ironizes Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) in Legally Blonde (2001). The American adolescence fantasized on screen draws on the imagination of a generation cradled by American Teen Movies, Girly comedies and the golden age of sitcoms. Prom, cheerleading, Miss America and love stories: Teenage Dream is stereotypical just like Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, 1995) or Sissy Spacek (Carrie, 1976). But with this last one, we then slip to Teenage Nightmare, which Morgane Ely loves just as much and also ironizes (Morgane Ely, Fangoria, 2023 – Gorezone, 2023).

Another image shows a beauty queen, crown, sceptre, not to mention the ultra-lacquered American-style hairstyle: the paroxysm of an ideal of beauty somewhat mocked by the photograph taken at the moment when the miss sketches a grimace. The tears of joy at being crowned queen? Or the tears of the second-place finisher? We don’t really know, but who cares? Perhaps she embodies the glorification of the pathetic? With their emphasis on vulnerability, funny pathos and derision, these images redefine the parameters of what constitutes a noble image. A complete rupture with the codes of female portraiture.

Morgane Ely creates woodcuts, initially for multiple prints, based on the traditional Japanese printmaking technique. A rigorous, codified practice in terms of both gestures and subjects, from which she tends to distance herself by choosing pop images, screen captures that she selects both from the cinema and by scouring the Internet. An image recorded in a fraction of a second can take hours to print. They then become the “beautiful counterfeits” of the initial anecdotic images. The ink-coated wooden matrices, curved in fluorescent colors, are the only traces of these images; they become the unique work of art and are no longer intended for printing. Not every woman will know what it’s like to be elected beauty queen. But one thing’s for sure: they’ll all recognize themselves in at least one of Morgane Ely’s works.

— Céline Furet


* It’s Raining on Prom Night, the title of the exhibition, refers to the eponymous title of the Cindy Bullens song in Grease (1978).