Claire Fontaine

Giving shape to painful things

RP 175 () / Interview

Parisian artist Claire Fontaine is a fraud, a forgery, her name casually lifted from a generic brand of school notebooks, her existence only present in the art that bears her signature. She was first brought to life in 2004 by Fulvia Carnevale and James Thornhill. She resides now in the neon gas, the video pixels, the found objects, the paper, the ink and the many languages that constitute her work. Where an ordinary object, say a urinal or a bottle rack, can become a readymade piece of art simply on account of the artist saying it’s so, Claire functions as a ‘readymade artist’ to render this very form of artistic subjectivity in a more critical light. She has a long list of influences. Most directly, her inspiration springs from the radical feminization of the Italian Autonomist movement in the late 1970s. Her philosophical roots are planted firmly in the revolutionary political theories of Jacques Rancière, Giorgio Agamben, Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault. Her artistic allies include the ironically subversive Bernadette Corporation and the anti-political writing collective Tiqqun. This interview was initiated during Claire Fontaine’s visit to Columbus, Ohio, in autumn 2009 for the group exhibition Descent to Revolution, curated by James Voorhies for the Bureau for Open Culture, to which Claire made two contributions: a solar-powered neon sign installed in downtown Columbus that cycled between the words WARM and WAR; and a multimedia lecture-performance on libidinal economy and human strike that focused on the bodies of women as site of political, social and aesthetic contestation in Berlusconi’s Italy.

Andrew Culp and Ricky Crano  At the heart of Claire Fontaine’s critique of contemporary art is a critical appraisal of the role played by relational aesthetics in relaying the social conditions and objects of capital into the space of art. Readymades like Duchamp’s Fountain, on the one hand, saturate the art world with familiar objects from the ‘mall-like universalism’ of the social world, while, on the other hand, further lionizing the singular artist as originator of creativity and aesthetic value. CF inverts this formulation, looking to transform artist subjectivities through a becoming-stranger. Can you pinpoint what exactly it is that a readymade artist can do that a readymade object cannot? Is there a historical impetus for this shift from object to subject? To what extent does CF subscribe to a programme of relational aesthetics?

Claire Fontaine The question of relational aesthetics is crucial because it takes place at the threshold between subject and object. At this specific point, several problems arise, which cannot any longer be classified along the lines of commodity fetishism or reification. Other more complex confusions and contaminations take place between objectivity and subjectivity. For instance, when a person comes towards you in a museum and tells you ‘I am an artwork by Tino Sehgal’, and then requires an interaction with you, this is no longer the dynamics of the happening or the participatory theatre. It is a step forward and backwards at the same time.

It is crucial to stress that people are not artworks, that the encounter with an artwork is regulated by circumstances that are incomparable to the ones that take place when someone meets another person. The ‘humanized object’ – that is, the artwork – cannot be compared to a living being, ethically speaking, or in terms of the creation of intensity. It is a philosophical mistake – as Winnicott explains – to conceive a newborn baby in itself, because this newborn baby, without an adult in immediate and continuous proximity, would die. The artwork is also a purely artificially maintained artefact that entirely depends on human presence and only exists as such because the spectator is there – as a reality or as a potentiality.

Processes of subjectivation are influenced by encounters with objects. I would say that this is what artists are interested in and that it cannot be described in terms of the impact of an artwork on a public. The influence of the subject on the object is what capitalism in general – and collectors in particular – are obsessed with: the hand of the artist, the product which is the result …