Prima Il Punto. Christine Maigne
An interview with Camilla Boemio
Christine Maigne questions the paradoxical relations between natural and artificial through monumental or more intimate scale works. In Montreal, where she lived in 1999, she realizes her first in situ project with Vox Gallery, The Vegetable Garden, an evolutive installation in the snow, followed by the exhibition The Gardening Lesson in Articule (Montreal, 2000). Her fictions about sprouting then interfered under different shapes in varied spaces. For her recent solo show Prima Il Punto at AOC F58-Galleria Bruno Lisi in Rome, she has developed a site-specific installation that maps the features of sociological, emotional and iconographic landscapes.
Following the example of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story, The yellow wall-paper, where a disturbing world arises from the hallucinations of the heroine facing her yellow wallpaper, here, in a whiteness punctuated with black dots, one enters a latent organic world.
The result is an artistic project that is remarkable for its visual and conceptual focus,
You grew up in France and live in Paris, but you started your career in Canada. Can you describe these different art scenes?
Yes indeed, some of my first significant projects were done in Montreal (Quebec), and more generally Canada offers interesting opportunities for artists involved in site specific projects, installation, or video art. This possibility exists thanks to the Artist-Run Centers, which are places that allow a unique freedom of expression far from the laws of the art market. These ARCs are managed collectively, most of the members are artists or more generally people from the art community. Unlike art centers initiated by artists in France, they have a real public operating budget similar to institutional places in France: a permanent staff, production resources, exhibition spaces and residencies. I was fortunate to have my projects supported by art centers such as Vox, Articule, or Dare Dare by answering very transparent call for projects. I was able to give visibility to my work and my projects have been well relayed by the press. I saw ambitious projects become a reality thanks to their help and flexibility. As a young artist, Canada offered me a stepping stone I couldn’t have found in France. France has more complex and rich networks of structures for contemporary art, art centers, and more museums and private galleries, but it is probably harder to obtain funding when initiatives are outside the institutional field. However, and quite amazingly, in France, despite this institutional rigidity, things can also happen, but it is sometimes more difficult to understand how. France in particular has a real public art policy. By the “1% artistic” for example (which exists in Canada, too, by the way), works can be produced within the framework of construction or renovation of public buildings. I produced several perennial works in this public context as well as others with private financing. This asks me to adapt to particular contexts to create in-situ works. I am particularly interested in this approach because it gives me the opportunity to collaborate with different building professionals and craftsmen to give a different scale to my work. Also, producing works which are not only dedicated to art places is something that makes sense to me, people can come across them in their daily life…
CB: As in other of your works and exhibitions, Implants and In vitro, an ambiguous territory takes shape that questions the living and their limits, in a tension between reality and fiction, between the natural and the artificial.
Can you introduce us to your artistic practice?
I am inspired by natural phenomena, I borrow principles of growth development and organization from them to create fictions of organic manifestations that express the living in elementary forms.
My goal is not to represent any real specific organism, but rather to develop a fiction of an indeterminate one growing in a specific space, usually in an inert medium. These growth fictions are created through homogeneous sets of holes, bumps, hairy forms. They develop and propagate by conferring a latent fertility to the support layer. Each time, I have to define the shape of the elements, how they transform, but also their behavior and the rules that their collective growth follow.
I am interested in primitive forms that can be observed in nature: the plant and its growth, the fungus and its mycelium, animal or human skin (spots, hair, pores), insects, worms or bacteria. What I get out of them is generic so it can evoke different fields at the same time or seem indeterminate.
Originally there is a surface, often white and inert, which becomes the medium of growing and moving elements. The synthetic fiction is based on a concrete reality. It is the places as a whole, their surfaces, walls and floors, which are subject to organic developments.
The example you take, Implants (HduSiège,Valenciennes, 2005) was about the growth of cultures created, initiated and stimulated by the human will. Several cultures are set up on the wall of the gallery, they seem to grow with the light as it was shown on a video animation. Everything was structured, the lines of electric light made the dark stems grow aggressively, like flower in above-ground crops. Through the different categories of elements and their manipulations, implant evokes the possibilities of mankind to push back the limits of the living.
On the smaller scale of studio works, tiny, fluid and dark shapes can develop in enclosed spaces in vitro, like experimental scientific cells. I can refer to the text written for the exhibition In Vitro at NextLevel Gallery (2014): “In Christine Maigne’s works, the question of naturality is always questioned: these forms of universal growth bring us back to our animality, they remind us of the vegetable world too, and more generally the living beings. At the same time, in this in vitro and achromic environment that Christine Maigne created, with all those black elements, she seems to say that nature is a human concept”.
CB: For all of their immersive power, your newest installations are also full of intricate details and juxtapositions indebted in equal measure to careful construction and the free movement of materials. This tension is expanded in the public art. For example, I am thinking of the permanent public work Cupules. Can you tell us some more, please?
Concerning Cupules (2010), I used concrete, but I made the elements with molds in order to obtain a very smooth organic surface which suggests the opposite to the hardness of the concrete. Also, all the cupulas have different shapes and sizes while being forms of the same family. The second material, a more labile one, is water. For this project in a retention basin, water is part of the transformation of the site, so the shapes of the cupulas were designed to retain water. After each rain, the water remains on the hollow of the volumes and creates puddles which, seen from above, reflect the sky like small mirrors.
Generally speaking, the question of materials, and of the way we perceive their volume and their shape by sight is very important to me. I avoid the raw perception that asserts the material. My In vitro works are behind a frosted glass, I let the gaze be at a distance from the materials, I play with the illusion of the volume, the real volumes and shadows.
The choice of the material is not easy because it must above all be able to fit into a continuum. It must transform itself and allow transitions with another material or just a flat graphic sign. It might emerge from a photography, from a flat shape, not like a collage, but must be seen like the same element that transforms and takes volume. My choices are often based on materials that by their smooth and black appearance can follow one another in continuity.
In the Prima Il punto project, I use stickers for the black dots of the background geometric grid, then larger and larger dots and then black rubber rods, first very short and then wider and longer, as if the dots started to grow. Something like a transmutation of the materials might happen, from a state to another, from the geometric flat grid to the organic growing elements in volume.
CB: Is it also a stylistic and technical evolution?
I have always had this approach to materials, but I suppose it has been refined over time and with practice. I am very constant in my research, even obsessive, but it evolves noticeably in the form. I have recently been able to diversify the black materials, but I have used some for years and it is more the way that I use them and associate them that evolves.
Photography has been the source of the development of the black volumes. In my first works, I was looking for transitions from the photography to the real space, adding black stems and soft outgrowths in continuity to the black parts of the photography, digging the photo print too.
I have been recently exploring the possibilities of salt for different projects where I have used salt of different granularities to create layers of whiteness.
CB: As many theorists/critics believe, I think art comes in an unconscious way. Tell me your opinion.
There is an obvious part of unconsciousness in the artistic production. In spite of the conceptual and planned part of my work I would not be able to explain why my inclination would lead me to a certain type of form.
There are recurrent forms that appear in my work, one could even speak of obsession in my case, about hair, about shapes like holes or bumps where sexual connotations can sometimes be found; but the root reason why these forms come intuitively is unknown to me and besides, it may not be the most important question. It would probably bring us back to elements of my biography. Some artists base their work on their life, I don’t. I want my art to be open to life and the living in a general and biological sense but not to my personal bio.
I had a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist, when he was visiting my studio. I joked while he was looking at my work about how that was material for a shrink, but he suddenly gave me this unexpected advice, that as long as I am well, not to dig too much in my unconscious. He added that maybe producing this work saves me from going to a shrink, that I had to preserve and develop it, and that besides a therapy would not be necessarily good for my art. That the relevant question is “what” I produce not “why”.
I must also add that intuition is coupled with conceptual work. To this unconscious process, a conscious work of stripping the works to reach the essence of things must be added. It seems important to me to have this more reflexive phase, where I make choices and try to eliminate useless things.
CB: In what way is literature a source of inspiration for you?
I have been working on whiteness for years, and the snow, even if I did not work on snow as a theme. I think Snow country, by Kawabata, had maybe an influence on my first works, I read it several times and I figured out recently that as a feminist, I could be more critical of the story itself, but still, the atmosphere of the book, the way the author describes the place, the snow, the mountains still interest me.
For my current project in Rome, Prima il punto, I refer, as you mentioned, to the “Yellow wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in which the wallpaper is an access door to the madness of the heroine. I think that all through the narration, it is the immersive experience of the perception of the wall, with the perceptual disorder, that I am interested in.
With a few exceptions like these, I rarely find direct inspiration in fiction even though I love to read. My inspiration comes more from scientific literature and documentations, biology, botany, geology, ecology …
For example, Une histoire naturelle du poil (A natural history of hair) by the biologist Claude Gudin, establishes transversal relations between different biologic elements like the eyelashes of protozoa, eyelashes inside the body, the respiratory tract, vegetal and animal hair … This book and its peculiar approach to the notion of living in the broadest sense through the concept of hair is a source of inspiration for me.
Camilla Boemio is a curator, writer, and university consultant. Her work focuses on interdisciplinary systems from an intersectional feminist perspective, with a focus on the social systems and other ecologies.
She has written and edited books; contributed essays and reviews to other books, journals, art magazines and websites. Her book As Brilliant As the Sun was published by Vanilla edizioni, in 2020.
A her contributed essay is been published at ROAR edited by Rosanna Greaves and Marina Velez. This book-work explores how artistic and aesthetic strategies address notions of sustainability. ROAR invited a selection of artists, curators, writers and academics to respond to broad issues around sustainability, such as the Anthropocene, ecology, land and borders, human and non-human relationships, notions of work, energy and time, and the creation and distribution of knowledge.
She is editing the new The Edge of Equilibrium book; who weaves a dialogue of many voices, instead of making a fixed statement, offering a wider picture of art communities, alternative land-based, low impact ways of living, that address these issues and dilemmas.