Mona Lisa spits pearls

Oct 3, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Archive, What's On




The Technophobe and the Madman…2 ½ D video necklaces…See Her Walk Over Pits of Hell. New York multimedia artist Quimetta Perle has a language all of her own.


An early digital artist going back 30 years – co-creating Internet2’s first live distributed musical – she works with the material of heroic women in the often picaresque, sometimes cautionary situations, suggested by fairy tales. She mixes media as diverse as video jewellery, jazz and digital poetry

with textiles, paint, beads, pearls and sequins creating the “ritualistic adornment of women’s realities”.  Frogs and demons, lips on IPod necklaces, and always, brilliants colour.


Showing in Londonin “Dare to Wear” (October 9 –November 4 at London’s St Pancras Crypt Gallery she will with 26 other artists explore the questions “Will flamboyance set you free? Will wearing beige really kill you? And…What should we wear on the way to the afterlife?”


Quimetta is making a flying visit to Temple.Works.Leeds’ own crypts, undercrofts and loading bays October 7-8 for further inspiration. Come and meet her Monday October 8 after 5 pm.


See and


Quimetta Perle, in conversation with Rachel Elderkin


Temple.Works.Leeds will be welcoming Quimetta Perle in October, so this seemed a good excuse to learn a bit more about an artist who re-works the Mona Lisa, mixes jewellery with video and brings out the power of women in a very colourful way…


Quimetta describes herself as an artist who ‘makes art about women’s realities’. Whether these women are amidst swirling patterns of colour or portraying stories of strength and endurance, the focus of her artwork remains centred on the figure of the female. However the women in question are often mythical or heroic, even goddess-like… not exactly figures of reality.


“When I say reality I’m talking about inner realities, what we experience internally” explains Quimetta. “A lot of my work draws on characters from folk and fairytales, which I, and I think many other women, internalise”.


Quimetta relates a French fable, the ‘Diamond and the Toad’. As with many traditional tales it involves the typically good, but neglected daughter, her cruel and favoured sister and an old woman loitering around a well. The good daughter, kind to the old women, is rewarded with jewels and flowers while her cruel sister is ‘rewarded’ with a host of snakes and toads erupting from her mouth. Quimetta believes such stories, often cautionary tales, are inside of us, teaching us how to behave. “A lot of my work questions that; it brings to light and examines, even overthrows or reinterprets those things.”


“I have a 2D image of a mermaid; somewhat traditional, beautiful, but made of broken pearls, with this fire and blood coming out of her. There are many reinterpretations of women over time, revealing different aspects, adding a little more…”


Like the kindly daughter of the tale, the woman of grace and endurance, it is with jewels, beads, sequins and such traditionally effeminate materials that Quimetta creates her work, choosing to embroider rather than paint her images. It is interesting that beads and jewels, which have such strong associations with the female throughout history, even back to ancient times, is one of the mediums that Quimetta chooses to produce her images of the strength and power of women. “I began using these materials in the 70’s, when I started making art seriously – it was very much a feminist statement to use these.


“Adornment has such ritualistic qualities, whether it is an ancient or contemporary women adorning herself.  Each piece of jewellery has a meaning, and is filled with purpose – an expression of power, a desire to be visible, to be seductive or humorous – to cheer up the wearer or whatever.  Everything we do has been done before for hundreds, thousands of years.  I think each of us carries that history with us and we express it all the time in how we live.” In Quimetta’s work it is both image and material which reveals the complexity of women.


However, Quimetta’s art is far from being just jewels and sequins. Quimetta is a multimedia artist and incorporates a variety of materials into her work, including video, sound and digital art. “I’ve gone back and forth between these materials, fine art, media and digital art. What I’ve come to realise is that they’re all another way of making marks, lines on a page.”


At first they seem opposing materials to work with but Quimetta has an interesting take on this. “Since I became involved with computers and video I have this theory about beads and pixels not being so very different. Beads may be solid, with a traditional place in history, but like pixels they create a matrix of colour and values when added together. Beads happen to be static, while video is a moving image, but there’s a similarity that I really like.”


Whatever material Quimetta uses to create her artwork, the components together build an image of intense colour and pattern. “I do like lots of colour!” Quimetta admits. “There were a lot of paintings and decorative arts around me when growing up; Asian fabrics, tapestries, all sorts of things that I always loved. I’ve kept the images of these fabrics and colours in my work from that – they’re something that’s been there from always.”


It is evident that Quimetta enjoys a collaborative approach to art. Not solely in the traditional sense of working with other artists but in the sense of creating work that is a collaboration of different styles and genres.


“I’m interested in combining things that appear different, in creating a dialectic of things that appear opposite,” Quimetta informs me. “What comes out of them is also interesting: the different offspring, the hybrids that occur in different ways, finding a synthesis. I think of it as an American art form, an echo of the history of the states – different people coming together and creating something. Although I guess different things coming together is more of a world thing now.”


Perhaps this comes from her student days, when there was a focus on creating an artistic community, on working together and moving away from the individualistic nature of art.


“As an undergrad there was a lot of working with other women artists. The feminist education focused on what women can create together. Later, I also did this as a professional artist, in particular with the multimedia work”.


A project entitled ‘The Technophobe and the Madman’ was particularly unique in its multimedia, collaborative approach at the time. “Ten of us worked together, it was a groundbreaking piece. There were two sites, linked through broadband, both with video and audio links, with simultaneous performances and two different live audiences. I came into that collaboration as a visual artist and ending up being a writer on the piece! I wrote half the text and Tyrone Henderson, a spoken word artist, and my husband wrote half, and we wove them together. The imagery then came from the live video images that were streamed with additional, layered imagery by another artist. It’s one of those things that happens with collaborative work – what you think will happen changes; it is a fantastic experience”.


Quimetta first began to consider the use of digital media in the early 80s. “Computers were becoming prevalent in our lives and work. With their military history they were something I was at first suspicious of; I thought no good could come of these!” It is extraordinary how from not wanting to accept computers, digital art could subsequently become such an integral part of her work.


“As we have them and will work with them, I wanted to be on the right side of them” Quimetta clarifies. “So I decided to go back to school and study Computer Art. By doing so I found some things I loved about working digitally. After that I began teaching at an art college here [NYC], for 5 years or so and now I run a studio for mentally ill adults in NYC”.


Temple.Works.Leeds also has a strong interest in collaboration and using different elements of the arts to create an eclectic event. It seems like an aspect ofTempleWorksthat would interest an artist like Quimetta.


“Yes, it is exciting and I like it a lot, the idea of genres combining and expanding together. There are a lot of things that can be used to inspire me: the space, the freedom to explore and to create something very new. Most importantly, maybe, are the people you are working with, their exciting ideas. All those things seem to be present atTempleWorks. It looks like an amazing place!”


However, Quimetta doesn’t necessarily prefer working collaboratively to working on her own, in fact the majority of the time she works individually. “I probably prefer it but not to the exclusion of everything else. When you work on your own you can really create your own world the way you want it” she explains. “That’s one of the beautiful things about art, you can create a world – where else can you do that?! Of course it can be done with other people but the collaborative element requires compromise and argument… I’m all for it, but it is wonderful being able to have it the way you want!” You can hardly disagree…



Although Quimetta has a multimedia approach to her work there is still a strong focus on the actual image. It seems this is partly intentional and partly a result of how the elements in her work come together. “Due to my use of video, as with any kind of moving image, the eye will go to that, but at same time I’m not creating a movie, it is a hybrid piece. They are 2D images with this 4D aspect to them – does that makes it 6D?!” I think we’re both uncertain!


“I like to call it 2-and-a-half-D” Quimetta laughs. “I’m still very much about the 2D image”.


While the image remains a central focus it does not always lead the work. The combination of different elements helps her artwork evolve in a variety of ways, the influence of each component changing from piece to piece. “Sometimes the images create a story, as with the ‘Demon Slayer’ book. With ‘Things’, the words and images were poetic presences together – I “saw” an image, then created it and the text”.


Ultimately, Quimetta’s ‘collaborative’ style enhances her artwork and reveals new dynamics within each piece. “I feel like I’m just getting started with what the moving image does and how it adds to 2D, with the many different ways of embedding video in different things. I want to create bigger pieces, put video in larger works. All of these pieces are silent, but I’d like to use sound as well”. It seems there is still plenty of potential for further development and with Quimetta making the trip up toTempleWorkswho knows what might be seen here in the future!


Quimetta’s visit to theUKis not purely to see Holbeck, surprisingly. She will be participating in a group show inLondon, ‘Dare To Wear’, an installation at St Pancras Cathedral Crypt during October. The pieces Quimetta is exhibiting here are part of her exploration of embedding video in her artwork. So far it has proved a technique to develop a piece, to progress it from being a static image to one which may tell more of a story. “Or several in fact” adds Quimetta. “Take my Mona Lisa for instance – what artist could resist making that to their own specifications!” Encrusted in beads and sequins, it is the embedded video which develops Mona Lisa’s story. “She is swallowing pearls and spitting them out. With the Mona Lisa there is this static image but the use of video reveals something very sensual – there is a strange thing going on.”


“Similarly, in ‘Girl with Crown’, the 3 iPod’s are less of a contrast, rather they are more about enhancing the personification of a generous, friendly-looking woman. However, the video has these kissing lips which may add a little sensuality… the videos just expand what we see”.


It is art that works to both change conceptions of women and celebrate femininity. “There are powerful women in the world now, secretaries of state, heads of state, all kinds of women in public life, yet there are still a lot of things for women to overcome. We live in this dichotomy of some women who have power and of a lot who are unable to completely realise their lives and have a lot of struggle.” While a lot has progressed Quimetta believes there is still a way to go.


So what can we expect when Quimetta comes to TempleWorks? “It sounds like an incredible place; I’m very excited about visiting!”


An attraction for many artists is the unusual space the venue offers. Having been part of a group entitled ‘MUSE’ while at college which used different spaces to work in, I wonder if this is an element which attracts Quimetta toTempleWorks. “Well with MUSE we didn’t have a space to exhibit in. We created a performance about women’s work and laundry – it was fun! Creatures, women, cast body parts were coming out of washers and dryers. It was very theatrical. There were sculptural installations and performance art in the midst of people doing their laundry!”


It sounds like something that would fit in well at TempleWorks, a piece that could suit the Temple Work’s toilets… Quimetta however doesn’t seem convinced. “Its not really me but I’m sure people would like to!” I mention that they have done. Quimetta looks bemused.


Quimetta has a chance to work in a variety of unusual spaces here. Maybe she will feel influenced to return to previous ideas like this? “Over the years I haven’t strayed very far from the same material, so it would be interesting to revisit, but not in the same way. There are things I work a lot with but there are lots of different ways of making. I’m still making some of the video necklaces. The pieces will get bigger and bolder. A video project can be made in a 100 different ways, anything I use now can be used in a form that replicates it”.


The element of moving away from the traditional gallery environment must be inspiring. “It creates all these possibilities, so yes” Quimetta agrees. “From the website I have a vague idea of the space; the Temple-like front and a wonderful, huge space inside. I feel like you can just cut loose. Do something big, bold, strange!”


Dare to Wear is similarly in an unusual space – the crypt of St Pancras Cathedral. “It’s certainly not the white box of a gallery! I’m excited to see it. The whole exhibition is set up as an installation. The work of each artist is distinct but it’s been installed together to make a whole environment”. HopefullyTempleWork’s unique space will prove equally inspiring. “I’m really excited to come and see the space and meet some of the artists that work there. Anytime you go someplace new, you don’t know what it will be like. But that can open new things that you don’t expect. I’m sure it will be a great experience”. Whatever happens, I am sure Quimetta will have plenty of scope!


It is Quimetta who perhaps sums up herself and her work the best. “Much of my work is about bringing together disparate forces, ideas and forms and seeing the synthesis that is produced by that coming together – whether past and present, traditional women’s work with technology, beads with video”. It is a method that adds depth to a piece and allows it to continually evolve. She is an artist that sees the strength in women, bringing their endurance and power to the forefront of her work – but always with dignity and beauty.


Rachel Elderkin


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