Family Affair – Carlotta Bailly-Borg

Family Affair

Carlotta Bailly-Borg

NEVVEN, Göteborg 

21.01 – 28.02 2021


SONG OF SPIRIT: To the deep, to the deep, / Down, down! / Through the shade of sleep, / Through the cloudy strife / Of Death and Life; / Through the veil and the bar / Of things which seem and are / […] Where there is One pervading, One alone, / Down, down!
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound)

NEVVEN is proud to present Family Affair a solo show by Brussels based French artist Carlotta Bailly-Borg, presenting a new series of works, where sinuously drawn wire-like forms, knotted and twisted, occupy five tall linen stripes hanging from the gallery walls, reminiscent of ancient Japanese scrolls. Inscribed onto these wires are the artist’s signature-style anthropomorphic and non-gendered figures, crawling towards each other or swooshing directionless, in tiny groups or alone, describing a complexly interwoven bodily metaphor and a reflection upon our own selves as isolated beings and our collective nature.

As typical of Bailly-Borg, who effortlessly blends history and cultural references in her multi-media, yet drawing based practice, in Family Affair different symbology are richly intertwined. The first and most apparent one is the knot, central in every and each one of the works composing the exhibition, the knot is a symbol recursive in the most different cultures, modern and ancient, to represent either life or death, liberation or eternal bounds, and nowadays foremost connected to the idea of forming a relationship, as it is the case for the expressions ’nouer une relation’ in French or ’to tie the knot’ in English. And, while each painted knot might symbolise a relation in itself, these works, hanging close together, form a group, a family, a community between themselves. Furthermore, with titles like Passive- Aggressive, Frustrated or Passionate, this body of work, reveals an interest for interpersonal relations, where the knot becomes a signifier for neuroses, for the twisted, complex inner nature of human beings. In his Ethics, Spinoza defines the concept of bondage to passions (or subjection) as the human’s ”lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects”. Accordingly to the philosopher the mind cannot command the body, but instead three basic affects govern its actions: desire, joy and sadness. These affects are at the origin of every possible positive or negative emotion, and consequent action. The bodies that Bailly- Borg draws seem moved by the Spinozan affects too, by unrestrained basic emotions, desires. They are twisted by their wanting, as they search for each other, taking over all the space available, their mind a natural extension of their limbs. If in the artist’s previous series these anthropomorphic characters were often barely contained by the surfaces’ edges, in these works the space they inhabit is further restricted, almost claustrophobic. What at first appeared as wire, as knotted string, at a closer glance morphs into a negative space,
a tunnel, a bodily cavity, a uterus. And in this realisation another symbology reveals itself, as in Bailly-Borg’s words: “the small figures inside the wires are like incrustations. They are like an echo, a reminiscence coming from a kind of collective memory. Night dreams. They travel like the unconscious. They dig. Pass through these digestive tracts. Wedge into the corners”. The bodily implications of the show then become clearer, the spaces these anthropomorphic creatures inhabit belong to a body, and by travelling its cavities and depths they communicate and connect, as inter-bodily resonances, blurring the boundaries between the self and the group, as if part of a collective mind, or a collective body.

This concoction of metaphors, eventually brings to mind the definition of liquid modernity by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, ”in a liquid modern life there are no permanent bonds, and any that we take up for a time must be tied loosely so that they can be untied again, as quickly and as effortlessly as possible, when circumstances change”. In Family Affair, Carlotta Bailly-Borg seems to reflect too upon this concept, translating it into images sensuous and grotesque at the same time, showing us these bonds dissected, as in an ancient scientific tableaux, while, at her pleasure, she tangles and untangles the slippery strings of desire, that, woven together, define our nature.

Alina Vergnano and Mattia Lullini


All pictures courtesy of NEVVEN and Carlotta-Bailly-Borg.
Photography by David Eng.