Matthew Schum How did the Homonyms slip-cast sculptures begin? What set the series in motion ?
Isabelle Cornaro The idea was to put something together without order—as a heap, something informe, or as a set of accumulated objects of a similar typology. You may notice the objects share the shape of a flower, an animal, etc. and that the objects in bas-relief posses stylized patterns, such as laces, decorated metal, ceramic qualities and so on. Along with the geometric shapes found in the other objects, I named them generally under the categories of naturalism, stylization and abstraction, each of which stood for different ways of interpreting a natural model. To put it another way, I wanted to register different grades of resemblance, in that sense, the casted objects are submitted to a double system of resemblance in that they resemble the real objects that have been cast and they serve as abstract ideas or categories. As for the chosen shape and using plaster material, it is important to me that the castings are made in one chunk or block so that the form of the objects appear to be the solidification of a liquid. Additionally, in making the Homonyms series, I thought very much about sixteenth-century Mannerist grottos in which characters were designed and cast out of shapeless stone-like backgrounds.
Matthew Schum There is something Baroque about your plaster casts.
Isabelle Cornaro I was always more interested in the Renaissance and most of all, Mannerist art. This last phase came right before the Baroque and announced it, in fact. Yet Mannerism remained much less narrative in its structure to my mind. Along with Mannerists grottos, I was very interested in buildings like the Medici Chapel of Florence and in the baptistery in which Ghiberti realized his sculpted door, The Gates of Paradise. I even went back to this work while working on the God Boxes series (2012).
Matthew Schum Yet even if your sculpture incorporates ornamental fragments, the way you cast objects silences them. Instead of form vibrating, as a Baroque fountain might take on organic qualities meant to be visible from beneath falling water, or how a profiled sil-houette appears to be lifelike upon a cameo, your casts really entomb things. As a whole, the objects you envelop in the sculptures look more like ossuary than privileged objects. Maybe it is bizarre, but I wonder if you think of the objects being more dead than alive after you have made one of your casts?
Isabelle Cornaro I agree with your description of Baroque as having a quality of vibration and expansion, as opposed to the silent aspect of my work. The objects are muted by being fixed as an image in a material that makes them more generic—they are the image of a face, a stone, a snake and so on — and by possessing the same consistency they seem to belong to the same kingdom and era once they are cast. It is also true that there is a funerary aspect to them as signaled in the title of the show at LA><ART—This Morbid Round Trip from Subject to Object, quoted from a previous interview with Quinn Latimer. Reflecting on our tendency to anthropomorphize objects and qualify them with feelings, whether it is due to memories and emotional value, or to hard work and financial value, I understood this movement as an extension of our own physical experience of objectification and death: namely, the transition from being a subject / animated person, to being an object / inanimate corpse. In my works, I connect this with my interest in the transition from shapelessness to formal properties and with an appreciation for chance and combinatorial processes.
Matthew Schum I ask about the “life” of the objects you collect because your working method employs and updates early twentieth-century found art. In Surrealism the found thing extracted from the marketplace has to do with unlocking the potential of the démodé. Breton’s writing, for example, envisions revolution in everyday things. An artist is defined by his or her power to recast the discarded object as a talisman or dream image. This alchemy is elemental to a movement that rewired art history to make for the avant-garde and, concomitantly, presented an alternative to the economizing of every imaginable thing as capitalism progresses. I wonder how you see your work with found objects relating to these tactics.
Isabelle Cornaro In this tradition, the found object was employed in various ways with very different meanings. Breton and the Surrealists gave it a magical and revolutionary potential, whereas Fluxus artists like Spoerri used it in a more conceptual way, embodying notions of process and time. The Nouveaux Realists followed a rather Pop tropism. I’d say that within all of these tactics, the use of found objects is linked to society. It is either a vehicle for collective symbolism, the factual evidence of a process or it points towards contemporary forms and notions of an era. I’d rather look at forms such as Duchamp’s and Morris’ and Levine’s later on. These artists incorporate randomness and something arbitrary that questions the ‘nature’ of the creative act, while they also express very personal mythologies linked to the existential question of being, which leads us back to your previous question.
Matthew Schum I am glad you brought up Spoerri. His work employed the tradition of still life, painting to disengage from the game playing that has often plagued Pop Art as a sometimes bland means of provocation that was self-consciously ironic and therefore academic and commercial at once. Spoerri addressed this impoverishment of visual art with everyday life. His readymades confront us with our own mortality: he shows time elapsing not in minutes, hours and days, but in dirty ashtrays, coffee stained cups and saucers, dirty knives and all the forgotten meals that have come and gone before us upon worn tabletops. Among other things, mounting a dinner plate on the gallery wall somehow pointed to the despondence of the readymade. Yet Spoerri’s realism also goes back to sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century still life, which drew the eye with crafty compositions but, also, located the viewer’s body within the visual field of the objects radiating realistically, as though in a window display. Conversely, there is little idealism in Spoerri and I see that as relevant to the images you make in sculpture. That is the charm of this darker brand of found art you pursue. This is the heroism of modern life that finds the everyday object living out its final days in a dirty sink or a flea market free bin just like the bohemian lives in the dive bar cafe. I think your work channels this healthy negativism where many of your contemporaries would seem to shy away from it in favor of irony or simple calculations blending the high and low.
Isabelle Cornaro I guess it’s the way I understand a deconstructive approach. I love this idea of showing time elapse not in minutes, hours and days but with the dirty ashtrays, sad cups and saucers—it’s a very detailed and materialistic approach to showing time. With an early work I made titled Savannah Surrounding Bangui and the Utubangui River, which was a sort of prototype of the large installations Paysage avec Poussin et Témoins Oculaires, I was representing schematic somewhat naïve-looking landscapes with jewelry belonging to my parents. Somehow it was the same idea—something very materialistic and highly detailed about the irreducibility of the objects (necklaces, bracelets, pendants, so on), with their very specific qualities juxtaposed to their function as schematic even childish signs, for a common representation of space, such as a horizon, mountains and other features that compose a landscape.
Matthew Schum How do you see the found objects functioning, not in the medium of the plaster cast object, but as moving image?
Isabelle Cornaro The films are to me the exact equivalent of the castings: a record or a mechanical print, of real objects arranged sometimes in a composed way presented as accumulations. With the films a recording has less materiality, because it is made of moving images. Whereas the castings are still, by comparison, and possess strong materiality as volumes in space. There is also something very performative and childish in the films that occurs in the act of making. Objects are quickly arranged just before being shot and even while filming. Colored lights, spray and liquid paints are projected or poured in real time. It’s a playful process. In the same way the editing is extremely simple, almost schematic, and employs a very simple early-film grammar with successive fixed plans, panning, wide shots and close-ups.
Matthew Schum Perhaps because you are focused intently on the distributing objects in your work, it avoids being busy. Meanwhile, your videos and sculptures quietly contextualize each other. It’s visual art without being a big production. There’s no siren song with the refreshing quality of silent film.
Isabelle Cornaro The point is I find it always very difficult to insert a sound that doesn’t work only as a commentary of the images and has its own plastic “objective” and, let’s say, autonomous dimension.
Matthew Schum Who were some artists who attracted you to making video?
Isabelle Cornaro Apart from Jean-Luc Godard whose film I was always a big fan and whose experimental practice can be linked to video art, I looked a lot at Marcel Broodthaers and Bruce Nauman film and video installations. The space and context they setup provided for the screened image to be experienced and understood in a larger constructed kind of thinking. And I have been very interested by artists such as Dara Birnbaum, Michael Snow, Rodney Graham, all of whose films and videos have a very strong and often repetitive structure. I also appreciate more accumulative or disordered kinds of films by artists such as Jack Smith and Bruce Baillie.
Matthew Schum What about favorite film directors?
Isabelle Cornaro Oh that’s tricky. As a teenager, my first intimate relation to art (meaning the sudden discovery of a world or a language that may indeed be yours, which you understand and eventual-ly could speak) came with movies and becoming a cinephile at a young age. For several years with my father, during every college break, we would watch 3 or 4 films a day, which I then continued to do less intensely but as a weekly practice for another couple of years. So, there are so many of them I love.
Matthew Schum What film do you suppose you watched more than any other?
Isabelle Cornaro Movies like “The Devil, Probably” by Robert Bresson or “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” by Jean-Luc Godard, which was translated by “Every Man for Himself.”