Julie Béna | Purple Unicorn

24.6. – 17.8. 2016

Ferdinand Baumann Gallery

Curator: Christina Gigliotti 

“…a scene that presents us with familiar qualities one may register from reality, but when grasped, dissipate or collapse into fiction.”


The current exhibition at Ferdinand Baumann Gallery, Purple Unicorn, celebrates impermanence and duality, while drawing attention to the essentially performative quality of modern life. In Julie Béna’s latest solo show, she presents a mosaic collage of metal framed material, evoking women’s evening dresses that have been trapped and recontextualized.

Typical of her site specific approach, Béna uses the bright window frames to evoke a fashion shop display, and yet the surprising introduction of organic elements adds a rather sinister tone. With a snake emerging from an elegantly draped shawl, one piece of fabric is simultaneously acting to attract, repulse, cover and expose. How can subtle manipulation transform these potentialities? Is it a peep-show or a spider web? Who is in control?


At the same time, the reference to the mythical unicorn suggests something one step removed from grounded reality. As curator Christina Gigliotti states in the accompanying text, “It is said that even if a unicorn is captured, it can never be tamed. I understand this as meaning unicorns retain their mystery even when found out, which is probably why they could never exist.” Hinting at a fantasy world just beyond our reach, this notion of make believe is present in a lot of Béna’s work and highlights her investigation into the motivations and meaning behind human beings capacity for imagination.

In a similar vein, the hide and seek element of the arrangements suggest a fascination with the way people go about engineering their own enjoyment and entertainment. The unconventional way these garments are displayed draws attention to the fact that, with varying degrees of success, we invest great creative resources in trying to generate and sustain pleasure in our lives.

As always, Béna’s work celebrates and dwells in subtly. Plants, animals, shells, everything becomes intertwined as the alluring notions of hallucination and deception mingle with tangible expressions of natural life. A dream-like mood dominates as we perceive these items displayed in seeming harmony yet nevertheless at rational odds.


Of course, no one would disagree that there is not, at times, pleasure to be found in illusion. The swaths of material serve not only as allusions to the rituals of theatre but also as veils between the various worlds and realities we inhabit.

Operating between truth and fantasy, we attempt to create or express something of our personal experience and to imbue it with meaning… all the while knowing it will remain arbitrary and enigmatic. In this exhibition, the manifestations of these urges have been contained, restrained and put on display to allow us to reflect on their meaning. What does this tension between concealment and exposure in fact indicate? Why do we simultaneously seek to reveal all our secrets while remaining mysterious?


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