Melt Together When Ready

Regarding Lise Haller Baggesen's Lipstick Modernism

Nicholas Frank Public Library


Lipstick Suprematism is Lise Haller Baggesen’s response not only to art-historical glossing over of feminine influence, but also to the recent tidal wave of white maleness deluding our current cultural moment. If history could be rewritten to properly feminize the schematic formalism of Malevich, the lyrical notation of Kandinsky's abstracts, Leger’s steel-cylindrical mechanization of human shapes, and other tenets & go-tos of the modernist canon, would history dematerialize and sink into a morass of pink & glitter? The only dangers are to continued ignorance and small-mindedness, and to atrophied senses unable to admit the chorus of other voices surrounding whatever we think the central subject is. Women have been at least equal contributors to every facet of our world, even if not admitted or recognized as such, and Baggesen's work intends to redress the corpus in an inclusive rainbow of color and light. Glitter seems a most appropriate opposite to Malevich's and Reinhardt's black squares—it directly reflects its source, rather than seeking to obliterate or pretend autonomy from it. This is not a condition of purported unity, nor is it even of duality, between the subject and its source, but of multiplicity, of the relationship between a thing and the world as a constellation of influences, sources, effects, balances, and contradictions.


Baggesen found her voice with the high-concept Mothernism, a tome comprised of letters to her daughter, sister and mother, and presumably to every woman, since in some sense all are at least the products of mothers if not moms themselves. Mothernism is less a refutation or argument than a plainspoken integration of impulses to make and to be, and to exist, having made, as co-creator of a shared reality. After describing the generative  'pre-conception attraction complex' as a cooperative impulse between ovum and sperm, Baggesen writes:[7]


...it is therefore not correct to say that the sperm "penetrates" the egg. Instead, they melt together when ready.


Already a perfectly concise refutation of the normative image of impregnation as a male-driven act, she goes on to draw an even finer egalitarian point:


Incapable of differentiating between forced entry or courtship, that bilateral readiness of egg and sperm is as dumb as it is deaf and blind; still it has an inherent intelligence.


To begin the chapter (Mother of Abstraction), Baggesen brilliantly reconfigures a half-century of modernist pursuit of non-referential 'purity':


Draw a circle. Draw another circle inside it. Draw a dot in the middle. In, further in. You have a target. An egg. a pregnancy. An abstraction.


Dudes haven’t traditionally been as good at subsuming the self. Despite centuries of fresh evidence that seeing the self as bilateral—at a minimum—furthers empathy and understanding, which in turn furthers peaceable co-existence (hopefully), a sense of rugged individualism pervades social discourse, even within a system designed fundamentally to protect those under power from those in it. Baggesen's emasculation of the process of impregnation succinctly elucidates the illusion that life is anything but a fundamentally cooperative venture, that even our presumed “singular geniuses” did anything but synthesize multitudes of information entering their consciousness through the discoveries and efforts of others, that the individual "marinates" in a culture of influences—thesis is made of synthesis. It's okay to give credit where credit is due—to the moment of novel synthesis and its instigator—but true credit would include the entire range of sources, not to mention inventors the synthesizer stole stuff from (Picasso at least deserves some credit for admitting his thievery). In the continuing inversions of white male privilege and modernist thinking, the artist’s sources were punished with obscurity, and thief rewarded for their clever adaptations. Telescopic vision is like that—it misses everything outside the tunnel between eye and gazed-upon object, bringing objects so close that context is lost.


In a similar way [as organic collective consciousness, and the "marination" process] you can imagine new ideas emerge, not as singular strokes of genius, but in response to the readiness of the collective; the singular mind being ripened in the marinade of the collective, until it is good and ready to conceive of an idea. So it was that at the beginning of the 20th century, the collective mind was good and ready to conceive of abstraction.[8]


Baggesen goes on to tell the story of Hilma af Klimt, properly identified as one of the inventors of abstraction, and restores the form’s early connection to spirituality and qualities of ‘otherness’ not generally ascribed to the ‘traditional’ notion of singular genius, always somehow the province of men rather than women, despite the obvious evidence otherwise.[9]


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