A Bouquet of Toothed Vaginas and Spiked Clubs: Some Thoughts on Nastasia Meyrat’s Recent Production
Camilla Paolino, April 2023
There is one painting by Nastasia Meyrat that I find to be particularly revealing about the concerns that have recently occupied the artist. It depicts two pink orchids, with their corollas in bloom turned towards to viewer. However, one could also see two vulvas or mouths in them, their petals being sinuously arranged as the flashy folds and depths of vaginal orifices or oral cavities. Now, the analogy with mouths and female genitalia has been ubiquitous in art, literature, folklore, and mythology since the dawn of times, symbolically charging sets of cultural practices, such as that of offering flowers as a present to a beloved one. But what about the parallel between mouths and vulvas, which the painting seems to establish by some sort of transitive property?
The correlation already exists, if latent, in scientific jargon, for, anatomically speaking, vulvas have labiae, that is, “lips.” Yet, this coincidence rests on a darker sociocultural stratification. Throughout history, indeed, many have believed that behind the lips lied teeth. As Barbara G. Walker exposed in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, the fantasy of the “toothed vagina” and, more generally, the association of devouring mouths and female genitals recurred transversally since ancient times, with a colored range of variations on the theme―including correlations with figures of executioners and evil spirits, deadly demons and doorways to hell. According to one of Sigmund Freud’s fancies, the death of the phallus would be caused by the deadly bites of the vagina dentata, a crystallization of the fear of castration elicited by the unconscious belief that a woman may devour her partner during intercourse. But biting is not the only faculty of the mouth. Such imaginary anatomical merging enables the female genital apparatus not only to castrate the phallus, but also to comment on its bites aimed at the patriarchal symbolic order. And while reasoning in such way, Nastasia Meyrat’s orchids/mouths/vulvas raise a question, barely legible in filigree on their petals, as transient as dew, as soft as a whisper: are you working too much?
This question, introducing the category of work into the organigram, acquires a specific connotation when scrutinized under the light of a further association: “mouth” comes from the same root as “mother.” The figure of the mother, summoned by the etymological concurrence, comes with the imperatives of social reproduction she is doomed to, her sexuality turned into a function, her body constantly put to work for the sake of capital, all the while fulfilling the behavioral mandate corresponding to the ascribed social role. For the labor of love entails all of this―condition to which Meyrat’s dysfunctional aggregates strain to resist. They bite instead of copulate; they play aggressive rather than romantic or benevolent. In this, they short-circuit their symbolic function, as well as the capitalist logic of work and productivity invading all spheres of human activity―artmaking is not exempt, as the snail, companion species of the above, argues.
They do so, as much as the couple of pincers making love to one another does in Be Nice. There, the encounter of the pincers engenders a bizarre relational dimension, marked by a discordant tenderness, an incongruous intimacy, an uncanny complicity. In the vision Meyrat depicts, these everyday objects grow alien to our commonsense, estranged by their very impracticality―a blink to Lee Lozano’s sexualized and crippled working tools on the verge of striking, perhaps. And as the pincers, in their spasm of romanticism, push to swap place with flowers, also flowers are ready for the swing. From being the emblem of sweetness, beauty, spring, and love, they turn in spiked clubs made of steel, potentially ready to smash some cars’ windows under the perplexed eyes of a police officer―homage to Pipilotti Rist and all the fellows who ever needed one of those for self-defense.
Ultimately, the constellation of figures gathered by Nastasia Meyrat in her recent artistic production seem to call for the “human strike,” to employ a concept crafted by Claire Fontaine to speak of a possible de-functionalization of subjectivity. They lure us, in other words, with the promise of infinite possibilities of becoming that might be expecting us once the role is deserted, the mandate dismissed.
In certain traditions, visionary trips to the underworld were described as the experience of being born but in reverse, as if the traveler was being swallowed into a womb and ended there, instead of being brough to life. The association between sex and death, conjured by the archetypal image of devouring vulvas, persisted in the modern times, orgasm being then perceived as a “little death” (i.e. the death of the “little man,” the penis) (Walker 1983, 1034–1037).
 “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work,” to mention a classic. Silvia Federici, Wages Against Housework, Power of Women Collective & Falling Wall Press, Bristol 1975, p. 1.
Nastasia Meyrat, How is it like to be what your are not?, 2023, Fabric and sound system, variable dimensions, exhibited within the framework of #Jardin d’hiver 2, at Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne in 2023
 The politics of citation, inherent in Meyrat’s recent production, is to be understood as a way to “acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow.” Sarah Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, Duke University Press, Durham/London 2017, p. 15–16.
 Claire Fontaine, Human Strike and the Art of Creating Freedom, Semiotext(e), South Pasadena CA 2020, p. 47.
Nastasia Meyrat (vit et travaille à Lausanne) obtient un MA avec mention de la HEAD – Genève en 2015. Elle expose au Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne en 2023, au sein de l’exposition #Jardin d’hiver 2, placée sous le commissariat de Simon Würsten Marin. Elle reçoit la Bourse d'arts plastiques du canton de Vaud en 2022. En 2021, elle expose à l’Institut suisse de Rome dans le cadre de l’exposition «Do you hear us ?» dont la commissaire est Gioia Dal Molin. La même année, Meyrat montre son travail à Milan, à l’ICA. En 2020 et elle est invitée à exposer à Marseille dans le cadre de Manifesta 13. Elle est résidente boursière de 2019 à 2020 à l’Institut suisse de Rome. De 2018 à 2019, elle codirige un espace d’art basé à Lausanne, Tunnel Tunnel. Meyrat est sélectionnée en 2018 pour le prix Kiefer Hablitzel et son travail est exposé aux Swiss Art Awards la même année. Elle est résidente boursière avec la Davidoff Art Initiative en 2017, en République dominicaine. En 2015, elle expose son travail à Port-au-Prince, après avoir fait la résidence Ghetto Biennale. La même année, elle expose au Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne et est sélectionnée pour le prix New HEADS - BNP Paribas Foundation Art Awards, concomitamment à l’exposition collective GET OUT, dont la commissaire est Latifa Echakhch.
Nastasia Meyrat (lives and works in Lausanne) obtained an MA with honours from HEAD - Geneva in 2015. She exhibited at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne in 2023, as part of the exhibition #Jardin d'hiver 2, curated by Simon Würsten Marin. In 2022, she got the Bourse d'arts plastiques du canton de Vaud. In 2021, she exhibited at the Swiss Institute in Rome as part of the "Do you hear us?" exhibition curated by Gioia Dal Molin. That same year, Meyrat showed her work at the ICA in Milan. In 2020, she was invited to exhibit in Marseille as part of Manifesta 13. From 2019 to 2020, she is an artist in residence at the Swiss Institute in Rome. From 2018 to 2019, she co-directs an art space based in Lausanne, Tunnel Tunnel. Meyrat was selected in 2018 for the Kiefer Hablitzel Prize and her work was exhibited at the Swiss Art Awards the same year. She was an artist in residence with the Davidoff Art Initiative in 2017, in the Dominican Republic. In 2015, she exhibited her work in Port-au-Prince, after taking part in the Ghetto Biennale residency. The same year, she exhibited at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne and was selected for the New HEADS - BNP Paribas Foundation Art Awards, in conjunction with the group exhibition GET OUT, curated by Latifa Echakhch.