This work was made for you, out of love for you whom we don’t know, it’s a work that we keep making to restore hope, to refresh our memory, to resist brainwashing, accelerated temporality, information flood and the numbing of the heart.
Our work doesn’t exist in a separate space, until you create this space inside yourself: there it can radically transform things, give you joy, support you in your quest of sense.”
Formed in 2004, Parisian artist collective Claire Fontaine is often recognised as a contemporary Marcel Duchamp. From the appropriation of her stationary namesake, Claire Fontaine has utilised a vast number of found and readymade objects in the quest to create work. Reminiscences of Dan Flavin, Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe are clear, but the positioning, and precise use of context, labels the work as something other than the contemporary norm.
The purposeful use of space in an “inappropriate” manner ultimately liberates the visitor of their preconceptions and makes room for them to create meanings of their own, something that Claire Fontaine proclaims to be a deliberate detachment of the artist from the explanation. This concept is frequently mentioned in the Letter to the viewer found on her website:
“…Our work looks for ways to carry and contain concepts, it plays with references but you don’t need to know or recognize them to fully understand it.
You are a better judge of our work than we are: the work was made for you, not for us…”
Claire Fontaine’s message seems to be inherently political, though, by making no explicit comment, there is always a questioning of the motives behind each piece. A recent show at Karst, Plymouth, WE THE PEOPLE ARE THE WORK / ‘I Am Your Voice’ was almost a protest within an exhibition. Complete with slogan-adorned placards and a United Kingdom formed of burning matches and phrases “HAVE CAKE & EAT IT” – an invitation to dine on the printed publications below it, I wonder? – and “I AM YOUR VOICE”, Claire Fontaine uses the current political landscape of the UK to great effect.
There is always this humour in the work, in fact, Claire Fontaine’s use of irony is all the more compelling when marked against the sincerity of her statements to the viewer, and in her ultimate message. In Redemptions (2013), Claire Fontaine used exhibition the opportunity to redeem the average tin can (en masse) and free it from its every day shackles and use value. Commenting on the general commodification of objects, the clouds of cans take on an unexpected beauty while hovering dangerously above the visitor’s head. The cans, when viewed as the people who collect them to earn money while sleeping on the streets, represent our pivotal moment in society as more and more people find themselves in times of hardship being made to leave their homes. All the while, artworks are being created and sold for vast amounts of money composed of objects worth so little to those with the money to purchase them.
Claire Fontaine are represented by T293 in Rome, Italy. They have exhibited extensively in places such as; Perplexed in Public (2008), various locations, London, Redemptions (2013) , CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, 1493 (2013), Espacio 1414, Puerto Rico, Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings: Claire Fontaine (2013), The Jewish Museum, New York and WE THE PEOPLE ARE THE WORK / ‘I Am Your Voice’ (2017), Karst, Plymouth.
Amy E. Brown
Featured image: Claire Fontaine, Untitled (Open), 2012, argon and neon filled glass, transformer, cables and chains, 24.5 x 60 x 3 cm, Courtesy T293 and Claire Fontaine