Another week, another artist talk. Caroline Achaintre is an artist that was part of our summer project and for previous research, please visit the corresponding blog post. Within this talk, it was interesting to see how she talks about her art and her processes, versus reading up on these online.
Achaintre opened up the talk with the fact that she trained as a blacksmith for five years. She believes that this has given her some influence over the artwork that she now produces. Originally from Germany, she came to London to complete her BA, and went on to do an MA in Fine Art. Her masters work was often that on paper, and Achaintre feels as though she always goes back to this in her process. These ink on paper pieces bring tension, personalities, teenage angst and clowns (one face on top of another face) together into one piece. Achaintre believes that the ink expressed and enhanced the tension within these pieces.
Within her masters work, Achaintre also played with the recognition of anthropomorphism (‘the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities’). As she loves to work in large scale pieces, Achaintre wanted to translate the size of these small ink pieces, but they quickly fell apart. At Goldsmiths, she tells us that she went into the textiles department and asked for a way that she could translate these small ink works into something larger. This is where she began tufting and the process of observing and adding.
The first ‘rug’ that was create was a simple black and white pattern. The black in this piece absorbs all of the light, making the white elements that extra bit brighter. For her, wool is a non-neutral material, and initially found it difficult to work with, however she also likes the simplicity of the wool. The ‘rugs’ that Achaintre makes are hairy and shaggy, and can be quite seductive. She adds that the projections make them look flat and they need to be viewed in person. The shift, in person or on scree, between the object and the subject is not quite clear cut; evidence of her inspirations of shamanism and animalism.
Achaintre mentions that German expressionism was a growing inspiration, and still influences her work today. The German expressionism was an inspiration in terms of angst. She tried to minimise and reduce some of her own, and some of the expressionists’ works into just lines. The artworks themselves were then created by lino cuts of these drawings. The expressionism also lead her to the tension between masks and the tension of masks. The masks that she then started to create have a performative element as well as being a sculpture. This gave them the element that they could have been part of an event, rather than sat to be admired.
Yet another inspiration for Achaintre that came out of German expressionism was archaeological digs (I believe that is what she said). She wanted her work to look more sculptural, as at this point she was working with very ‘flat’ pieces and materials, hence the move further into ceramics. She made her own contexts from these and didn’t just want the ceramics to sit on a plinth, or hang on a wall. She designs specific stands and ‘areas’ for which the ceramics to sit. Achaintre also works with clay like she works with paper – she uses strips, or a slab of clay, and layers it, screws it up and manipulates it until a desired shape appears, such as a mask. Achaintre also sees faces in bags, such like people see faces in buildings, and created a series based around this.
From ceramics, she started to play around with ceramic and clay. In one of her pieces, it is believed that sometimes it is just a dummy, but other times a character appears. Along with this, she began to create a happy context in the postmodern design of her exhibitions.
An aim of Achaintre’s is for the ceramic to be alive and the piece to look different each time you look away, and then look back at it. This is also achieved in many of her ‘rugs’, including the only one that she suspended in a British University. The piece Birds was the only time that she would suspend any of her work, and separates a cafe from the rest of the exhibition space. Another interesting space that she exhibited in was after winning an award; she was able to display her work in a historical building, which naturally was a dark space with minimal natural light. Therefore, you would not have initially seen the tufted piece on the wall of the gallery room, as the colours and style significantly blended in. Postmodern furniture was bought in to display some of the ceramic work.
Achaintre was also lucky enough to be selected to display her work in the Tate Modern. Here, you were able to see another artists work through the doorway at the end of the room. The solution was to weave a wicker piece in order to distort this view, and to attract your attention to the pieces in the room, rather than outside the room. It is here that you can see why her artwork is described as both modern and ancient at the same time. In some galleries, she found that weaving was not the way forward, but rather experimented with the physical walls in the space. In one of her largest solo exhibitions, Achaintre placed the gallery walls at varying angles, and even had walls that were angled, with works placed in small windows along the sloped edge. Such as the photographs flatten the ‘rugs’, Achaintre also finds that she creates moments and examples, but the photograph flattens the experience as you see everything at once.
Another exhibition habit of Achaintres’ is displaying low to the floor. She finds that the pieces have a certain gravity towards the floor. A piece has previously been hung close to the ceiling in a group exhibition she was part of, and Achaintre believed that this did not work for the dynamics of the piece. The colour palette throughout her work is also very small. Achaintre believes that where she makes so many choices throughout the process of making her work, there should be some limitations set in place, and colour is one of these. The shapes are of the same ‘limited’ genre – Achaintre believes that symmetry is boring, but she still loves to play with pattern and shape, and therefore avoids symmetry.