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Review by Maya Rubio
Installation view of “Marissa Cote: I promise to stay in touch” at Distillery Gallery, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
“I promise to stay in touch” invites a tender awareness of body and state—both a state of being and one’s relationship to entities of power. Marissa Cote’s beautifully slow-hand woven forms are stretched, punctured by metal hooks, twisted. Text-based pieces contextualize Cote’s study of radical love and care within (and on the peripheries of) American sociopolitical systems. Through language networks and fabric forms that at times resemble skin being pulled from the body, Cote presents entry points that connect one’s personal body to their political body.
An abstracted American flag hangs in the space and calls upon visitors to position themselves as citizens. Yard signs with front-and-back text are mounted on boxes of turf grass. FLESH:STRETCH, MOMENT:MONUMENT, RAGE:RITUAL. These signs aren’t necessarily presenting straightforward contradictions; there is nuance in what’s being communicated. Perhaps they are keywords to guide complex lines of inquiry. The signs themselves are strong symbols, reminding me of the markers we stick in our yards to declare allegiances or identities. Perched on a step, a stack of vocabulary lists assembled by the artist guides our meaning-making. Words include TEAR, BUTLER, OCTAVIA, STAY, VIOLENCE, HOOKS, BELL, RIGOR, PRACTICE, TUG, PILE, LOVE (IDEA), LOVE (ACTION), WAIT, SCAR, HISTORY, PRECIOUS.
In the introductory wall text, quotes by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison and an excerpt from “Understanding Whiteness” (authored by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center) root Cote’s questions around racial identity and the pursuit of “good love.” Cote explicitly positions herself as a white woman, thus initiating a deconstruction of her innate proximity to power. At risk of slipping into white feminist semantics, the exhibition commits to an intersectional framework, embedding a variety of thinkers and writers into the work, like an artistic bibliography. The show doesn’t point toward a complete understanding of our national landscape or a perfect deconstruction by any means. Cote aims to generate questions and open fissures of curiosity and vulnerability.
Left to right: Marissa Cote, you + me (after Chagall), acrylic yarn, 2022. KNEE 2 KNEE, cotton yarn, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
An interactive Mad Libs-inspired installation is a playful inquiry into ubiquitous narrative construction and the personal blanks in everyday life. What are the proper nouns, verbs, names of celebrities, and places that construct our sociopolitical lexicon? Woven portraits of ambiguously formed lovers gather throughout the space, too. Each piece’s title calls upon a different artist, such as Chagall and Toulouse-Lautrec, implying references to art historical gestures. Here again, Cote examines how a cultural lexicon develops and slips into interpersonal interactions. How did you learn to hold your lover? Did a movie or painting inspire you to touch someone differently?
Back to the body. Woven material reverberates with its sensitive making—hooks piercing, tugging, creating wrinkles and crevices. By integrating metal hardware in many of the textile pieces, Cote reflects tension between body and infrastructure, the forces that hold us together and stretch us into dynamic, sometimes unnatural, forms and flows. In KNEE 2 KNEE, cotton yarn paints two purple mountains; their tips touch and gleam bright orange. Despite the title, I think about nipples, a site of both pleasure and politics. I think of their tenderness, material chafing over them, metal piercing through. Nipples are also a site of identity specification, restriction, and censorship based on who you are. The personal and the political bleed together as the show signals.
Cote presses charged topics with a subtle, nuanced touch. She reminds us of questions that are important to continuously ask: What are these exterior forces that enter our most intimate relationships? That hook into our flesh? What is keeping us apart? Perhaps most essentially, Cote returns us to the viscera, an awareness of body, feeling, and environment.
“I promise to stay in touch” is on view at Distillery Gallery through Saturday, March 18.
Maya Rubio is an independent curator and editor at Boston Art Review.