Interview: Adeline de Monseignat
London-based artist Adeline de Monseignat unveils her latest works in the show Home, opening this Friday 14th November at Ronchini Gallery. Curated by Samia Calbayrac, the exhibition features a large installation which deals with the artist's psychoanalytic motifs of estrangement and familiarity. We caught up with her to talk Freud, literature and soft sculpture.
What kind of works will feature in your upcoming solo show at Ronchini Gallery?
‘Home’ will feature one main installation, my largest to date. I wanted to translate the invitation to ‘open the doors to my mind’ to the viewer in an immersive and intimate experience. The piece based on the measurements of my childhood bedroom is the most intimate space one could share, yet the one where creativity originates. If my mind were a space you could wander around, that would be ‘Home’, which makes the piece some sort of a self-portrait where the viewer is invited to take a seat for a tête-à-tête with my mind. I have gathered the main materials from my childhood home, which I stripped down from its awnings and bed sheets, fabrics that have aged with me. All the other pieces in the show are either preparatory studies and sketches for the installation, or fragments of it, like my ‘DNA strips’. If you were to think of the installation as a body and you were to extract a DNA sample of it, you would find all the materials I have used in that main piece composed into repeated fragments displayed into strips which retain all information – the ageing of the fabrics, the hair, the dust, the passing of time, the energy and soul of those who lived close by those materials.
In the past you’ve talked about an interest in Freud’s The Uncanny. Does this text influence your new show?
Freud’s Uncanny has come to my knowledge during my BA in Literature at UCL. It took quite some time for it to really resonate with me, for years I couldn’t quite grasp it. I see that time as a period of incubation, a stretch of time needed for it to grow within and on me. It then slowly grew into a real fascination for me but mostly foundations for me to understand my own work. As my sculptures were slowly starting to have a life of their own and playing on that threshold of the animate and the inanimate, Freud’s writings imply that sometimes the beauty lies in what is left unanswered. In his essay, he proved that the failure to define the term made it even more so interesting, making the search for ‘the uncanny’, the strangely familiar and familiarly strange, even more so tantalising and irresistible. Just the way we often try to define our lives in vain yet never stop trying, and not without great enthusiasm. So ‘the uncanny’ is just a way to read my work of yesterday, today and tomorrow. However, the simplest way to understand its link it to my current show is by exploring the etymology, the roots of the word ‘uncanny’, since the term comes from the ‘un/homely’: ‘home’. So here I am putting a show that explores the roots of the word, but also my own roots.
The Uncanny discusses the idea that a moment can be at once familiar but ambiguous and strange. You sometimes sculpt with glass, filling objects with furs and wrapping them in swaddling cloths, such as in Jonny 2012. Are these pieces a comment on Freud’s theory? Do other psychoanalytic texts inspire you?
‘Making the familiar strange’ is the best tool to relearn how to appreciate the full potential of materials that surround us. Fur is a material, which we are not used to seeing pressed behind glass. The patterns it creates make the fur almost liquid-like, enabling the viewer to rediscover it under a new light. Our senses are subverted, teased to touch, yet having no access and no way to release that desire. The organic qualities of fur, hinting both at life and death, enable the pieces to gain a real sense of life and presence. This is something I wanted to push forward and investigate and I therefore started the Creapture Project, which Jonny was part of. Jonny was part of a series of 4 creaptures made in collaboration with two artists, one philosopher and my mother, each of which provided me with their birth certificates. With the information provided on those documents, I made biomorphic mirrored-glass pieces of their lengths and weights as newborns, swaddling them in a protective fabric. Freud talks about a strange and creepy sense of presence that some objects carry – like possessed dolls. In this series, I aimed to see whether objects could be experienced in a different, namely held and ‘felt’ through their weight, which psychologically meant something to those who took part, and for these inanimate objects to suddenly ‘feel’ full of life. British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott talks about the need for the newborn to hold a ‘transitional object’ – a teddy for instance – to understand the boundaries between his body and his mother’s, which until his birth were just one. Yet I see how the human being goes though constant transitional phases throughout his life and I wondered what ‘transitional objects’ for adults would be and feel like if indeed we needed them to order to understand ourselves better.
What are the other themes and ideas running through the exhibition, and what are these concepts inspired by?
Through personal observations, I came to the simple conclusion that the body acts like a house inhabited by the mind, which turns the house into a home. We organise our space the way we organise our thoughts. We also become what our past is made of; this can be destructive but with work and self-awareness, this can make us ever so much stronger. The main piece of this installation entitled Re(construction) of the Self is an homage to Louise Bourgeois, but also a gift to myself for having managed to make my own personal story a basis for solid foundations instead of self-destruction. Making work is a very therapeutic way of living and, for me, this show celebrates that. I’m also very much inspired by nature and fertility and ways in which my work, once sold, is spread around the world and carries this responsibility to carry a little piece of my own energy, a little piece of the bigger puzzle that my practice is about and the positive message that life always carries on, no matter what. Seeds beautifully carry that promise for life and future growth. I therefore included a piece in ‘Home’, the Seedpod, which aims to carry that idea through. When the Re(construction) of the Self focuses on the past meeting the present, the Seedpod looks towards the future.
Your work gives life to austere materials such as metal and glass, can you talk a little about the mediums you choose to work in? How do you go about sourcing these?
It is the strength of the metal that appeals to me. It enables me to create assertive foundations that aim to act as protective structures for the inner – usually more fragile – parts of my sculptures and installations. Even the act of welding is a very empowering one. The metal physically challenges you; it is unforgiving, heavy and fights back in many ways. I was taught welding by the great Julian Wild. Due to a lack of access to welding workshops and an increasing number of shows and projects, I now work in collaboration with a welding workshop in Bethnal Green where the skillful Adam and I turn my quick sketches into physical structures. Glass is a whole other story. It is mostly its fragility that speaks to me. It represents the human being so beautifully; strong in appearance, fragile in reality. Its versatile nature just shows what a rich material it is. At once transparent, enabling a dialogue between the inner and the outer, it is very easily turned into mirror, transforming the discourse into one that suddenly focuses its attention on the surface of the glass and reflects right back at the viewer. With the fur sleeping inside my glass spheres, I have often thought of the glass as a shell that is as protective as potentially self-harming if it were to break.
What art are you inspired by?
Surrealism. Soft Sculpture. Land Art. But also, Literature (French 18c libertinage, Italian 20c fiction, philosophy and psychoananlysis) and Classical music.
Where else will you be exhibiting in 2015?
Top secrets plans for now…
Home by Adeline de Monseignat opens 14 November and runs until 17 January 2015.