The following conversation with Caroline Archaintre took place as part of her participation in the Critical Perspectives at Teesside University Fine Art. Archaintre’s work is currently the subject of a major survey exhibition at Baltic, Newcastle, UK. Her work has also featured in British Art Show 8, the Tate Britain, and Whitechapel Project Space. For the entire interview, please go here.
Critical Perspectives Teesside: You spoke a bit about how your work ties in with ideas of the inexpressible, but also German Expressionism—would you be willing to talk a bit about those connections or what is interesting in that for you?
Caroline Archaintre: The notion of ANGST, the direct expression of a state of turmoil, often expressed in simple stark ways in relation to German Expressionism.
CPT: Nice, I am also really intrigued about your process and how you mentioned that the pieces are like masks or fetishes in appearance, but then I hadn’t really thought about this whole other side where you are constructing the tapestries from the back from which you are sort of peering through and it is all more mask-like in process. How do you approach this and when did these ideas come into the work?
CA: I guess I perceive a mask not just as this distant object, but also something one/I can project myself into as the bearer, and then it becomes part of me. In the end the masks become personalities themselves, not just a disguise, they reveal the other. A potential hybrid of what is behind and what is the front.
But when working on those pieces from the back I don’t necessarily think about being behind the mask, then I am more interested in the process. But I really like the delay of perceiving the work. To imagine what it looks like until I go round and check on it. This is also a way of projection into the piece.
CPT: You mentioned that you aren’t particularly drawn to readymades or manufactured objects, is this related to your approach—you spoke a bit about this in relation to the leather necktie in the one piece. A lot of students seem drawn to the idea of readymades again, so I was wondering if you could speak about your choices and approaches to materials in this sense?
CA: Well, I don’t mind ready-mades in other people’s work, it doesn’t matter who made what, no morality there. I just find it hard to understand a piece myself if it hadn’t run through my hands somehow (with very few exceptions, as for example the leather tie).
CPT: With the image of the tufted work in that house in Turin, there seemed to be something a bit different taking place. You have spoken about how your objects inhabit their setting, or how you sometimes create these habitats, but there was something really lovely about that one and it almost was like the way that a giant moth or exotic fungus might perch and camouflage into its surroundings—how did this come about or take form for you?
CA: The setting was incredible, but that has to do with the amazing place in the first place. The exhibition was in the Castello di Rivoli in a room where the walls were covered with half finished wall paintings, unfinished decorative elements, and had a very specific and slightly faded colour scheme. Additionally it is very sparsely lit. For the Castello I made ‘Martia’, a slightly otherworldly site specific tapestry hanging over an unused fireplace. I adapted the colour scheme of the room and wall painting, and somehow the piece camouflaged itself into its environment and became like an apparition.
CPT: It’s also really appealing when an artist working with these tapestry-like works or what one might consider domestic type materials cites goth-metal or horror films as her influences. It gives this other whole way into the work. Would you like to talk a bit about this relationship?
CA: It is a funny one, this soft – hard relationship. The interest in the goth/metal-horror transgressive imagery was there first, but it was the Uncanny element within that world that interested me most, the marriage of the familiar and the scary. This state made me choose a warm, familiar material, or a domestic object. I did not think about all the connotations of feminism, textile art and such. I used to be a blacksmith and a drummer in a band, now I work with wool and clay, for me one is not tougher than the other, just different.
CPT: You’ve also spoken a bit about how there is a primitivism to your work, but that they are essentially forward looking and have a futurist aspect as well. I’ve been re-reading the old William Gibson novels just for fun, but could definitely see these tufted pieces as a sort of stand-in for the AIs that he describes as striving for sentience on the web and take on this sort of primitive voodoo or African deity aspect. Is this something that appeals to you are how do you envision your crossing between primitive and science fiction?
CA: What you just described definitely appeals to me. As I said before, in my work as well as in science fiction there is always something ancient and modern. Often the future in its core cell is depicted as very archaic and run down. And has tribal elements. In a back to the future kind of way.
CPT: I like to ask this in general, but what is exciting to you at the moment?
CA: To figure out what comes next. The Baltic show brought a lot of work from past and present together, a good moment to shift a bit.
CPT: Do you have any advice you would give art students in general or for artists just starting out?
CA: Team up with others and try to show your work as much as possible, organise shows, you learn enormously from it and get exposure. Enjoy what you do, and of course some times suffer as well.
CPT: I’ve also been talking with a lot of artists about the idea of art school or art education in general—I see it as at a bit of a crossroads, but in the positive sense. As someone who has come through art education (Goldsmiths, etc), I wonder what are your thoughts or what exactly art school is for or what do you see as the opportunity that this presents in the current situation?
CA: It gives art a more fatalist outlook, which is more interesting than a monetary one.
CPT: What is appealing to artists about a place like Teesside or say Newcastle where your show at Baltic is currently on? Why might it be more likely that these sorts of ideas and approaches might emerge from an environment like this as opposed to someplace like London or New York, or is this something you think?
CA: Hard to answer, as I haven’t spend that much time there, but I grew up in a smaller town and studied two years in Germany in Halle, a smaller town next to Leipzig, and the network and support was tight, things were easier to organise and the place takes less energy.
CPT: Yes, for me it offers more room and space to experiment. Most places are becoming priced out for artists or people in general, so there is always this tug-of-war between affordable or supportive and the exposure with cities. It also reminds me that there may be a need to revisit some of the experiments with alternatives modes of distribution like what happened in the 60s and 70s.
Anyway, thanks again for your lovely work and tutorials with our students—we received very positive feedback from all involved.
The Critical Perspectives series presents artists and thinkers from across disciplines, offering artist talks, mentoring, lectures, workshops, and tutorials at Teesside University. Simon Critchley observed, ‘The problem with contemporary art is that we all think we know what it means and we don’t,’ and that has been our jumping off point. With an international focus and interdisciplinary approach, Teesside University Fine Art’s Critical Perspectives challenges us to rethink our location within an ever-evolving community of artists in the twenty-first century.