FABRICE STROUN The ﬁrst works of yours that I saw resembled composi-tions of found objects shown in glass cases (Le Proche et le lointain, 2011), or on plinths (Paysages avec poussin et témoin oculaires, 2011). More recently, I discovered your casts of similar objects, which you call Homonymes (2010 and 2012). How would you describe this passage from one material state to another, from one mode of presentation to another?
ISABELLE CORNARO The Homonymes are direct imprints of mounds of objects. In contrast to the Paysages avec poussin, I do not use objects here as graphic building blocks: this is not about constructing a landscape from an ideal vantage point, but attempting to ‘cast from life’ categories of representation. The absence of composition allows me to put aside my subjectivity, or at least my ‘sensibility’, which is clearly at play in the Poussin works. This amounts to a shift of emphasis in my artistic gestures, as I try to move from more formal (i.e. aesthetic) to more categorical considerations.
FABRICE STROUN Can you clarify this last statement? Also, if these heaps are not ‘composed’, how do you pile up these objects?
ISABELLE CORNARO The categories I refer to were empirically defined while observing different objects lying around my studio at the time that I was working on the Poussin landscapes. In the first set of Homonymes (those with the cast objects), I identified three distinct categories of objects: naturalistic objects (even when streamlined), ‘in the shape of’ a duck, a flower, etc.; objects carved with decorative motifs, repeated and stylized; and objects sporting geometrical form – even if impure – that brought to mind an idea of abstraction. In other words, my categories were: Naturalism, Stylization and Abstraction. A fourth cast was then made with what was left over. Piles were thought of as ‘heaps’, following a functional rather than an aesthetic logic. By that I mean that spacing had to be sufficient for the technician to make the casts, with various heights so as to reveal the maximum detail, etc.
FABRICE STROUN What drove you to make a cast of these objects – an artificial surrogate, as opposed to presenting them directly as they are?
ISABELLE CORNARO To wrest these objects from their original function, to transform the way they are perceived, to change their frame of representation. Simply put, to put them at arm’s length.
FABRICE STROUN How would you define this newly created distance? Do you consider these casts as ‘models’ of something, or some process, or should we regard them more as ‘allegories’? And if so, of what?
ISABELLE CORNARO I like the idea of an allegory since it describes an abstract relationship to the world and often calls for the use of figures, of characters, as well as of effects. The cast object relates to two distinct fields of likeness: to the real objects that were used to make the casts, and to the abstract categories they represent.
FABRICE STROUN Is your choice of making plaster casts linked to the notion of the ‘imprint’, in the sense of a particular category of representation as defined by Rosalind Krauss or Yves-Alain Bois in ‘L’informe’ [Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1996], or is it more of an art-historical issue for you, one that relates to technique?
ISABELLE CORNARO One thing that really matters to me is that the cast is moulded in a single take. It is a solidifying, a change of material state – meaning that all the objects used become a single mass ; in the same way in which ‘drawn’ shapes emerge from a formless block of matter. An important point of reference are 16th-century Mannerist grottos, where animals and flowers are sculpted in a mass that remains partly formless, or rather, keeps its natural shapes. There are also other grottos where the entire stone is sculpted, including the parts that are supposed to be formless, ‘natural’ matter. The material and the manner in which it is used projects an image of reification, i.e. of death – the passage from an animated body to that of a corpse.
FABRICE STROUN Is this the reason why most of the objects you are using seem to come from a defunct era? All these old-fashioned tchotchkes seem to come from someone’s attic or the flea market. I hate flea markets.
ISABELLE CORNARO They do indeed come from flea markets, which I visit without any pleasure. I too hate this slightly pornographic relationship to objects, half-sentimental, half-concupis-cent. They are domestic decorative objects (vases with Chinese-style ‘Oriental’ motifs, trinkets, cheap glassware, Christmas baubles, knife holders, egg cups, etc.), out-dated tools (rubber stamps, metronomes, rulers, old camera lenses), as well as my own used working tools (small varnished plinths, bubble wrap, plaster, glass sheets, slides, etc.), or objects linked to money (coins, bills, poker chips, piggy banks), or to pageantry (perfume bottles, jewels, medals, lipsticks, etc.). There are never any direct human representations, only abstract, vegetal, and animal and mineral decorative motifs. In the end all these objects are, in one way or another, related to work (as in the work necessary to produce these decorated objects, or their mechanical reproductions), as well as to the ways they map out a social class, which happens to be, most of the time, my own.
FABRICE STROUN Is this a way of bringing to the fore an autobiographical dimension in your work?
ISABELLE CORNARO No, not in this sense. Just that I have some familiarity with these types of objects having grown up with them. In fact, the very first objects I ever used – and which made me reflect upon the emotional, sentimental, but also historical and social dimensions of objects we encounter daily – are jewels that belonged to my parents. Not only did I have them at my fingertips, but I had also seen them in old photographs. Otherwise all the objects that come from flea markets are devalued : they are copies of copies, surrogates of ‘sought-after’ pieces, presented as unique objects when they are in fact, most often, industrial reproductions.
FABRICE STROUN This use of culture is really peculiar to your practice and your story, and does not seem to have the remotest connection with the globalised ‘pop’ culture that many of your contemporaries draw on.
ISABELLE CORNARO I find it difficult to work with pop culture because, in my opinion, it is already overloaded with presence, in every sense of the word. A sense that takes occupies too much space, both physically and in our mind’s eye. Most importantly, pop almost always generates a positive, sentimental relationship to culture that I cannot relate to at all. To work with the objects and places I detest creates a harsh and tense power relationship that I much prefer.