EASTBOURNE.- Towner Art Gallery
is presenting the UK debut of Carey Youngs Palais de Justice (2017), the artists most ambitious video installation to date, which develops the law-related artwork she has been creating for more than a decade.
Palais de Justice was filmed at the Palais de Justice in Brussels, a vast 19th century courthouse designed to symbolize the power of law and empire, and still Belgiums main working court. Contradicting the familiar patriarchal culture of law, and always shooting without the knowledge or permission of the court or anyone depicted, Youngs camera shows female judges and lawyers at work. Sitting at trial, directing proceedings or delivering judgments, female judges are seen through circular windows in the courtroom doors. Palais de Justice subtly builds a counter-narrative a legal system seemingly centred on, and perhaps controlled by women.
The UK presentation of Palais de Justice at Towner in 2019 coincides with the centenary of the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which allowed women for the first time to serve as magistrates and jurors, and enter the legal and other professions.
In Palais de Justice, men and their iconography of patriarchal power are still present, but their usually dominant position is reversed. Male lawyers wait patiently and nervously outside courtrooms for a female judge to allow them in. They stand in front of their judge as she enters, and remain standing until she allows them to sit. They plead their case in front of female judges, who only occasionally bestow attention. As the piece develops, Youngs camera also captures younger female lawyers in a more intimate and personal way, either caught within reflections, or through becoming noticed by some of her subjects.
Filmed over two years, the artist spent extended periods filming in the courts labyrinthine corridors, always shooting in plain sight, whilst playing a kind of cat and mouse game with security personnel. In the video, the courtroom windows and the cameras lens become an interwoven series of oculi, setting up complex relations between lenses, surveillance and ideas of framing or being framed. Here, justice is seen as performance, whilst the viewer and the artist seem implicated as witnesses and voyeurs.
Young perpetuates a heightened sense of the colossal interior of the Palais de Justice, with an immersive soundtrack recorded from beneath the immense marble dome of the courts main hall, and in the surrounding corridors and underground spaces. The real becomes hallucinatory as the echoing sounds of disembodied male voices, footsteps, and heavy doors closing, encircle the viewer, as if they were hearing the ghosts of the judicial system.
Carey Young is one of a number of prominent contemporary artists including Forensic Architecture, Jill Magid, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Susan Schuppli, for whom law is a subject of artistic enquiry. Her practice has evolved from a cross-fertilization of disciplines including economics, law, politics, science and communication. Her work often develops from within the particular cultures she explores, including immersing herself in the legal and business worlds in order to examine and question the reach of each institution's power and its ability to shape our contemporary reality.
Palais de Justice was first shown in solo exhibitions at Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York in 2017.