THE FITZROVIA GALLERY announces ‘5 BEDROOM STORIES,' a solo presentation of recent work by London based artist MARIA GVARDEITSEVA
London, April 2023:
For centuries, the breakup has been the prerogative of men. In the 19th century, romantic love emerged as the basis for marriage and changed the game. In the days of arranged unions, one could blame society if things didn't work out. But since the conceptual evolution of the marriage towards a sentimental vision, the breakup becomes an attack on the inner self.
Today, about half of all marriages in Europe and the UK end in divorce, and significantly, 75 per cent of divorce applications are filed by women. Perhaps that last statistic explains why women suffer more emotional hurt and find it more challenging than their ex-partners to build a new lifestyle and relationships. The cruel logic would be that if the woman marries for love and then decides it is a bad idea, the fault must be hers. So she suffers psychological and social consequences – self-blame, stigma, or both.
The project 5-Minute Bedtime Stories courageously resists this logic. London-based artist Maria Gvardeitseva (divorced after 20 years of marriage, four children, numerous countries, and shared challenges) takes a pronounced political and feminist approach to the story of her separation, which transforms grief, sorrow, and hatred to let them go. She offers artistic tools that help women to look at the situation with self-love, rediscovers the socio-political aspects of marriage, and cope with this life trauma and the challenges of patriarchy.
She surprisingly does this – by reference to fairy tales. In this structuralist masterpiece, The Morphology of the Folk Tale, Vladimir Propp described the typological similarity between a fairy tale and an initiation rite. The initiatory nature of marriage – to the secrets of sex (as it used to be), childbirth, etc. – is not in doubt: the number of hallucinations and fantasies explicitly associated with marriage and weddings in modern popular culture spills over.
Think only of the diamond engagement ring. It is a marketing success of the ruthless De Beers diamond monopoly and not a widespread tradition: diamonds are rare because De Beers controlled supply, and they are popular because the company backed substantial marketing campaigns, which made diamond engagement rings de rigueur. The ring on a severed finger in Gvardeitseva's installation emphasizes this irony.
What particularly interests Gvardeitseva is Propp's idea that, in the fairy tale, the hero's initiation to an adventure and a new status depends on stepping outside an institution and violating an interdiction. The hero – or heroine – is told, "Don't, on any account, go out of the garden!". But they do go out, and then the impossible and fantastic happens.
If the only status imagined by our culture following divorce, the end of love or betrayal of a partner is drowning in a lake, retirement to a nunnery, or waiting for the next love-and-marriage opportunity, we perhaps need to think again about divorce and separation as an initiation and not always and inevitably as a tragedy.
The institution of marriage is less powerful now than it was in the past (in Slavic countries, almost within living memory, girls who died before marriage were buried in a wedding dress as if to atone for sin). No doubt there are reasons for that. However, women's experience of divorce and separation as victims or guilty parties is worse than inexpedient.
Using the parallel with fairy tales, Gvardeitseva suggests that violating an interdiction or stepping outside an institution can be a brave step with transformative consequences. Could there be a fairy-tale divorce? A more intense life in the self-revealed sense, initiation to a new stage, or ultimate return to the same marriage institution in a more satisfactory form. A variety of possible "happily ever afters."
MARIA GVARDEITSEVA, Artist: “For me personally, this exhibition is important, first of all, by the discovery of large layers of problems that seem to be recognized, but are not on the agenda. Each of my heroines, whose stories became fairy tales, spoke about the refraction of pain, about the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And this light is self-love, we ourselves."
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Notes to Editors
The Fitzrovia Gallery:
Exhibition: 13.04 – 29.04.23
Tuesday – Saturday, 12– 6 PM
The Fitzrovia Gallery 139 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 5EN
About Maria Gvardeitseva
Born in 1982 in Minsk, Belarus
Currently lives in London, UK
Maria Gvardeitseva is a multi-disciplinary visual artist based in London. Gvardeitseva holds a diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK (2007), completed the New Media Course at the University of Denver, Denver, CO (2011), and is working on an MA in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London (2022-current).
In her works, Maria Gvardeitseva works ironically with themes of memory and sublimates pain in ways that are at once realistic and fantastical. The political plays a crucial role in her installations, and in one of her recent exhibitions, Maria placed her Belarusian passport in a jar of formaldehyde, comparing torn documents to scattered anatomies in naturalistic and medical museums. In the spirit of Didi Huberman's montage technique, Gvardeitseva works with notions of severance, splitting the essence of objects away from their socially reproducible roles – all things necessary to film-montage our lives.
Maria speaks clearly and straightforwardly of the pain and emotional experience of exile, the collapse of time and the strangeness of love, leaving room for a metaphorical reading where the versatility of emotions is the key focus. As a principle of Gvardeitseva's artistic practice, aesthetic distancing creates room for thought and gives physical awareness of the surrounding space.
Gvardeitseva has taken part in group and solo exhibitions, staged performances and was a finalist in the national selection to create the collection for the Belarusian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022.
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