I know why the caged bird sings . . .
–Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird,” 1983
The first act of liberation is to destroy one’s cage.
–Michael S. Harper, poet, 1977
From the front, the cage attached to the lower body of this drawn woman could be associated with the shape of a dress, perhaps even as an indirect reference to the cage-like construction of garments such as 19th-century crinolines. Yet from the side, the cage extends out and becomes suggestive of a pregnant womb. It is harmoniously married to her frame, yet it simultaneously traps her. The contradiction speaks to the uneven treatment women historically have received, being at once matriarchs in the domestic sphere and victims of subjugation and inequality in the public one.
Pousttchi’s Double Monuments at the Phillips soar toward the ceiling as Tatlin’s did, but his model was symbolic of larger things to come. If constructed, his glass and iron sculpture would have been 1,300 feet (about 300 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower). The model was meant to promote “the collective” and (re)establish the visual culture of Russia. Pousttchi’s Double Monuments aren’t necessarily commenting on that idea, but much of their power and meaning is drawn from that history.
Pousttchi uses Dan Flavin’s trademark fluorescent tubes to expand that history. In the 1960s, American artist Dan Flavin utilized neon tubes to explore minimalism and the role of art in the gallery. Interestingly, he created a series responding to Tatlin’s monument. Pousttchi disrupts Dan Flavin’s minimalist language and places fluorescent tubes within bent metal crowd barriers. She simultaneously comments on Flavin’s homage and removes a key element of Flavin’s works; her fluorescent lights are not alone in a gallery space as Flavin’s are, but rather are enveloped by the skeleton of Tatlin’s monument.
Tatlin sought to usher in a new era of Russian visual culture and politics. Flavin was attempting to disrupt the idea of the gallery. Pousttchi comments on history and the work that came before to explore her own ambitions and artistic practice.