Art: Concept gallery presents Caroline Achaintre’s first solo exhibition in France.
Duo Infernal is a fundamental question in the practice of the artist who is interested in the concept of fluctuating and multiple identities. Born in 1969 in Toulouse, raised in Fürth, Germany and settled in London for about twenty years, Caroline Achaintre is nourished by multiple and radically different cultural references that influence her approach. With her sculptures made of wool, ceramic and with her watercolors, the artist has fully taken the gallery space over to install her hybrid creatures, transforming the exhibition space into a theater where a dialogue between different characters half-fantastic, half-ghostly can take place.
To understand the importance of raw material and its processing (wool, clay) in Caroline Achaintre’s approach, it is necessary to remember that, five years before turning to art, she worked as blacksmith in Germany. For Achaintre the intelligence of the hand mainly proceeds from a difficulty to create with objects made by others and reinforce the identity of her works which are, to use her words: much more than “beautiful decorative objects to watch“. Her approach is process-oriented and focuses on letting the material express itself without locking it into a preconceived categorization. The process of making the piece here overrides the object as finished artifact. Thus, her works in wool similar to Berber carpets are hung on the wall and her ceramics are never functional. Usefulness is always diverted and questioned with fantasy and humor.
Inspired at once by European carnivals, primitivism, German Expressionism and science fiction, Caroline Achaintre’s work on the one hand evokes the possible coexistence of several characters within a same being as well as the tensions generated by duality. The artist also refers to her own memories from German popular culture, including the title of a song, Duo Infernal, composed by Marianne Rosenberg and the group Extrabreit, a song she listened to as teenager. Such coexistence, inherent to the pieces, is activated by the viewer when he is confronted to them.
No precise indication is given as to how to approach the work of Achaintre. We see in turn a mask, a garment, an animal… Her works have the particular feature of being difficult to define. At once abstract and figurative, they reveal anthropomorphic forms and indicate a particular interest for animism. The artist suggests that her inanimate pieces could be endowed with a soul or even possessed by a spirit (as in African or Japanese cultures).
The treatment of the surface associated with different sets of texture and color accentuates this ambiguity while emphasizing the non-neutrality of the sculptures. With their reptile skins, glistening scales or shimmering furs, Achaintre’s sculptures tend to awaken our “desire for exoticism”. The seductive shine of the enamel almost gives them a wet and alive appearance. Some pieces like Severine (2018) or Nero (2018) look like abandoned skins, moults that once again evoke the coexistence between a before and an after, an outside and an inside.
The woolen sculptures, that are for the artist a three-dimensional transposition of her watercolors, are made using a tufting gun to play on the color and length of the woolen threads. This very physical technique retains the intensity found in the drawings while reinforcing the expressive and lively character of the pieces.
“I work with the mask in the widest sense, using ceramics and textiles. My tufted works always depict more than one being. There is the façade of the surface, and then the question of who is behind it. I was interested in the psychological aspect of what you see in these objects: they have anthropomorphic features, but they are not abstract, and not yet figurative; a multilayering of multi-personalities.”
Achaintre’s interest in the psychological dimension of her work has been present since the beginning of the 2000s. Her first works on paper, often geometric, are reminiscent of Rorschach’s tests. Masks and disguises are all elements that testify her fascination for the coexistence of a plurality of personalities within the same individual. Caroline Achaintre’s figures are inhabited. BiaUltra (2017) is half-vulture half science-fiction creature and Hocus Locus (2018) is an animal while at the same time being a shape inspired by the bas-relief motifs of the Ishtar Gate.
The mutation of forms and the plurality of possible interpretations engage the mind and the whim of the viewer. This is the strength of Caroline Achaintre’s work: to question our own capacity to be in the world as individuals de ned by complex and multiple identities.
Lila Cegarra (translation Frieda Schumann)all images © the gallery and the artist(s)