Caroline Achaintre. Uncanny Eroticism
Much like anthropological fetishes, Caroline’s creations have a strong cohesive power, balancing between often conflicting entities. The oscillation between past and present in Achaintre’s art is eternal, endowing her works with a fleeting impression: although her roots lie in German Expressionism and renewed Primitivism, her art seduces us with its unconventional and multifaceted character.
After her exhibition entitled Tête-à-tête at Galerie Art:Concept in Paris, in May she presented Permanente, the final stage of her touring solo show, at CAPC in Bordeaux. On that occasion, Caroline shared with us her “first loves” and the unbridled seductive power of her ceramics.
Beatrice Benella: Dear Caroline, what was the first work of art you have ever loved?
Caroline Achaintre: Dali’s Lip Sofa and Lobster Telephone come to mind. I have always loved surrealism in objects and clothes. Its play with displacement is funny, and so free, it does not follow rules and orders. But also Brueghel and Bosch were extremely fascinating and left a strong impression.
BB: How important is it for you to keep an element of mystery in your work?
CA: I would not call it mystery myself, but I would like the viewer to make their own discovery in my work, want them to have the impression it is their personal experience what is perceived, and hopefully it really is. Therefore, I try avoiding being too explicit and do not really like to explain my work. Only when the dialogue between the object and the viewer is dynamic, the piece is alive.
BB: For some of your ceramics, you have pointed out how they can be interconnected with fetish aesthetics, made explicit by the insertion of leather parts, or suggested by iconographic references. What are the elements that fascinate you most about it?
CA: First, I like the double meaning of the word Fetish, although I am certain it comes from the same source, the religious/animistic meaning as well as the sexual one. In both cases the meaning of an object is heightened or transferred, it is charged. I very much like my work to be non-neutral, therefore I like to use materials that already have a certain energy or reference. Leather is such a potent material; it is a skin when worn in a tight manner or amply stuffed from the inside is very compelling. I was certainly influenced by writings and photographs from George Bataille, a performance I saw by Fabrice Gygi, Leigh Bowery, the film In the Realm of the Senses, but also artefacts from ethnological collections.
Any attempt to categorise Achaintre’s work would not only prevent us from fully appreciating her creations, but also from being surprised by the unhinged nature of her art.
Her ceramic sculptures have led her to investigate the ways in which the mask – a fundamental element of her artistic investigation – alludes to erotic imagery, evoking role-play and obscure rites of passage. With their shiny surfaces and sensually elegant colours, Caroline’s non-traditionally functional masks are mesmerising objects whose deep hollow holes are like dynamic centres of gravity.
The artist places her works in a delicate balance between the visible and the invisible, leading the viewer to question the process of concealment and unveiling: is the mask the object through which reality is transformed, or is it the instrument that reveals the hidden self? Understanding who or what exactly her works represent is as difficult as it is superfluous.As objects of a culturally fetishist era, Caroline’s seductive masks belong to that fetish imagery which over the years has managed to transform the object of her obsession from a consumer good to an instrument of sexualised devotion. The powerful aura that emanates from the latex-esque material, the symbol of fetish style par excellence, stems from the contradictions and provocative force that endow latex with mystical and alchemical sensitivity. As well as imitating the rubber material through the use of colour and surface gloss, the artist likes to confuse her audience through the combination of ceramic and leather: Caroline exploits this union of materials to shape new autonomous objects, transforming the outer membrane into a second epidermis capable of transcending all constraints of gender, age and species. The effective superimposition of different images also charges Caroline’s works with a surrealist reminiscence, in which the play with the double is taken to the extreme by the transformation of the materials, thereby changing the very meaning of the work.Ceramic allows Achaintre to focus on the actual working process, allowing the tactile aspect to emerge, sometimes bringing out its more elegant connotations, sometimes its intrinsic roughness. Difficult to work with and naturally alchemical, Caroline retains the feeling of material malleability of ceramic, giving the works a strongly viscous feel. Caroline’s masks are thus able to express, with disquieting humour, the variety of forms and manifestations of Eros, which, formally manipulated, animate the inanimate object world, making it a safe territory in which to give free rein to desires and fantasies.