1991 - The Wire-mesh Surrogate Monkey Mother

A recreated simulacrum, which was first created for scientific usage, with adjoining framed archival scientific documents.

When Prof. Harlow designed an effigy of a monkey mother to demonstrate his theory of distress in orphaned animals, he did not construct a perfect replica such as a taxidermied monkey. Instead he constructed a wire-mesh doll that carried "formal signs" designed to communicate directly to the affect of the young monkey. Taken from this past existence, which has left its trace as a material archive of witnessing documents, the ersatz monkey mother is reincarnated in the form of an object. It imposes upon the viewer a vision that is part of the world of experimental science, a vision that is in the service of the observation of physical and biological phenomena in a world where affect becomes a subject of exact scientific measurement. Motherhood is thus hopelessly reduced to a simple doll, a palliative, an object charged with tacit demands. The object "monkey mother" reincarnates its inherent connotations, it is fetish, mascot, and exorcism.


When I first came upon this monkey mother, she became an obsessional figure that we appropriated—to the point of inserting her into our childhood memories.
There is ambivalence in this piece. The visual coexistence of human cruelty and human comforting and the resulting simultaneous attraction and repulsion create a sensation of push and pull. An oscillation that gives a particular life to the monkey mother, who in turn has become an emblem of our work.

Marion Laval-Jeantet