Caroline Achaintre (born Toulouse, 1969) spent her formative years in Germany studying Fine Art at Kunsthochschule in Halle/Saale (1996-98), with her postgraduate Studies in Fine Art and Combined Media at Chelsea College of Art & Design, London (1998-2000) and a MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London (2001-03). She trained as a blacksmith before coming to London, where she now lives and works. Recent solo exhibitions include those at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2016); TATE Britain, London (2015-15); Castello di Rivoli, Turin, IT (2015-16) and currently at FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Riems, FR until April 2017. Her works were also part of the recent British Art Show (2015-17).
Achaintre spoke to us primarily regarding her work rather than a biography and began explaining the general themes behind some of her work. She began by sketching and drawing patterns that explored a form of teenage angst. This tension was expressed and enhanced by the use of ink imitating that of a Rorschach ink blot test. Along the lines of this psychological field, Achaintre wanted to operate on a larger and explore the tension of a physical presence though domestic material.
This pursuit of a domestic material to work with translated into the making of carpets. 2003 was the year of the first development of her practice that followed the use of wool in carpet making. Achaintre liked the intensity of an image consisting of individual fibres. In her words there is a “non-neutrality to the material” as well as an inner tension and torsion in the manipulation of the threads of the carpet as well as the liminal display of object and subject.
In her piece “Insider” the work inhabits both object and painting as both the mask and figure are looking in retrospectively and outward towards the world itself. For me there is a question as to whether the mask itself counts as expression of a person, or is simply a painted persona, as Achaintre mentions: a “performative character”. There is a distinct interest in shamanism and animism as the carpets themselves often contain elements of faces or figures that walk a tight rope between living and inanimate. This is aided by the hairy and shaggy qualities to the carpet which can be seen as seductive, inviting and playful.
Achaintre is interested in German expressionism and also masks and the process and performative qualities of masquerade. Often her work are attached to metal stilts, which although are polite and modernist still create their own context when introduced to masks. These masks can be considered as ceramic like carpets and, like the carpets, are something that she has never done. In terms of process Archaintre enjoys starting from something flat and trying to make it 3D with a presence and a voice.
One of her works feature a mask with a ceramic feature attached onto the mask itself. Here, there is a fetish-like element to the piece that, once the ceramic is displayed with the mask, becomes a character. There is also a keen interest in Anthropomorphy and the perception of humanity in animate objects. Achaintre claims to see human features in handbags all the time. this habit creates and animistic habit in which objects and people co-exist and live and communicate together. This can be traced in her clay workings from which a slab of malleable clay can appear to change shape once looked away from for a brief moment.
Birdsssss is the only piece by Achaintre that is suspended and she states that it probably the only piece that ever will be. There is a definite Animist feature to the work due to the tension and ambiguity of deducing if the bird is rising or landing. this tension is especially poignant to me as the bird itself is caught in suspended animation which is further highlighted by the object/subject debate related to the material itself. This idea of tension in material, form and perception is very intriguing as I do feel her pieces are full of vibrancy and life despite the fact that on face value they are carpets.
Camp Coo is described as a post modern annex by Achaintre, where plinths to display here ceramic pieces slot together like Tetris. There is another dialogue between these characters and the hollowness and fullness with their combination with the space. In terms of process, Achaintres carpets are not woven but tufted: the canvas is stretched and shoots of wool are “tufted” back to front from the canvas. Archaintre calls this, painting with wool which I feel is a great description of her practice; merging both disciplines of traditional art and skilled crafting into a very unique and inclusive practice. Nevertheless, Achaintre always sees herself as an artist and tries not to define herself in general.
Achaintre’s work is often described as both ancient and modern at the same time having an archaic, distressed presence. There is something quite humorous yet apt to her work that often when thinking about the future it can be imagined that humanity has “advanced” yet potentially could also “revert” back to a primitive state. The use of tensions such as these encapsulate the environment of her work exceedingly well. Achaintre never ceases to be surprised by how display changes her pieces this is especially true when her pieces get transferred into photographs. She describes them as “flattened” and I believe that only in full presence of the work is the real character is able to be experienced and introduced (although it is undeniable that traces of these characters can be met in the pictures).
When asked about sourcing materials, Achaintre explained to us that she doesn’t dye the wool herself but that she likes to work within certain limitations so that some of the choices when it comes to her process are taken away from her. Early on to the development of her carpet pieces she decided that irregular shapes, instead of symmetrical pieces, were going to act as the base to her work as symmetry is boring and with such vibrancy and diversity to her pieces, they must be considered anything but that.
Website address: http://carolineachaintre.com/