Taking sculpture as the focus of her artistic research, Delphine Coindet (*1969 France; lives and works in Lausanne) engages herself in a non-ceasing reinvention of contemporary sculpture. At the first look, it’s tempting to label her work as visually simple, geometrical forms and banal objects. However, these somehow farcical images evoke a minimalist visual language that is itself foreign to what art history understands to be Minimal Art. Coindet’s quest to imagine a new order of things by creating tangible banal objects is purposely upset by her tendency to simplify and to dematerialize certain constitutive elements of traditional sculpture. Hence, once entered the exhibition space, her work exhale a strong unsettledness as if their presence is an intrusion and their existence a total coincidence. Often, they recall the artist’s hybrid formulation of architecture, design and theatrical forms in her in sculptural installations.
In the interview, Delphine Coindet shared with us the notions of reality and representation in contemporary sculpture and her interests in natural primary elements as a counterpart of the humankind in the hierarchy of classification of things.
DC – Delphine Coindet
ST – Selina Ting for InitiArt Magazine
A New Representation of a New Reality
ST: When looking at your sculptural works, one of the first things that draw an audience’s attention is color. Be it monochrome, elementary or contrasting, can we say that the way you use color evokes the tradition of painting rather than sculpture itself?
DC: There is a kind of a priori judgment on sculpture which I find strange because, since the 20th Century, the notion of sculpture has been totally outstretched. We saw this in the works of the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and later on among the Pop artists, such as Claes Oldenburg who has destroyed the codes of a monolithic sculpture with uniform colors. This is the departure point for me. More precisely, it seems normal and logical to me that color has to be present because sculpture is also the reflection of the reality, and the reality is in color. So, I choose to work with colorful materials. After that, of course, there is the implication of different emotions that a color can arouse. So, color allows one to create a multiplicity of combinations and to evoke different interests, to draw people and to give indications. Let’s say that color has at least three dimensions. Firstly there is the conventional association that we give to a certain color, it usually stays on the functional level. Then there is the perceptive dimension which is linked to the visual impact. The third dimension is emotive which operates on the subjective level. The way I use color is to create all kinds of possible combinations based on these three dimensions. In terms of aesthetics, the three dimensions are all essential elements.
ST: Do you see a tendency in simplifying the color system in today’s art practices? We have all the technology and tools to create the most complex nuances in colors, but it seems that amongst the younger generation, simplicity in color is preferred.
DC: I think there are all kinds of very different strategies. If you look at fashion photography, for example, you will see the most advanced level of the high-tech. We have all the perfect tools to reproduce the reality in its closest details as well as to modify it. It’s true that artists like me, who grew up at the early stage of computer technology, are quick enough to incorporate new technology in our artistic practices. In my early work, I often employed the simplification and schematization techniques offered by the new technology. My sculptures can in a way be related to drawing because of its minimalist and pure lines. I think there is the idea of syntax in which an ensemble of things is united.
But in my work, there is much more than just a question of graphic design or formatting. It’s also about language. The simplification is also linked to the passage from the semantic dimension to the perceptive dimension. The transition allows us to resort to the language, the letter and the image itself. When I started to develop my work with computer technology, there was always the question of an abstract language which is at the same time visual and formal and linked to the semiotics of the language.
ST: Such as the piece Le i, placed against the wall which recalls the image of an autistic “self” in the internet world?
DC: I made a lot of jokes in my work! [Laughs] There are definitely a lot of hidden meanings! The starting point of this piece was a work by Robert Morris, i-box, which I studied intensively at that period. Morris’ piece was like a game. Let’s say I like to assign human beings to the periphery, and I always have the tendency either to put the “self” back to its proper limit or to remove it from an assumed position that perhaps is too central. I am strongly against the point of view today that human beings are at the center of the world. This is for me too anthropocentric. There are allusions more or less inexplicit in my works that try to marginalize human beings, because in reality, we humans are not at the center of the world. If we can think differently, if we stop considering ourselves as the centre of the world, maybe we can accept that we are not much more valuable than a stone, for example. [Laughs]
ST: Stones and other primary elements, such as diamond, water, minerals, etc., are very important motifs in your work. Normally, they don’t form a part of narration in art, but you shift them from the background position to the central stage, it’s an act of subverting the order of things!
DC: Yes! To put what’s really important back at the centre of the world! [Laughs]
ST: If we come back to the question of sculpture, we can also say that the simple and geometric forms of these primary elements actually bring us back to a banal, simple world. At the same time, the enlarged scale of these sculptural forms calls into question the complacency as well as the fragility of human being…
DC: We can perceive the scale as a game of inversion and displacement. However, the idea of enlargement is not a systematic process in my work because after all, the scales that I attained are rather limited. Secondly, there is the idea of trajectory and to put on the front stage elementary forms that are constitutive of the final material, such as the domes, the molecules, etc. Then, there is a recurrence of sculptural models, such as diamonds, stones, columns, pillars, etc.
ST: Yes, the tentative to play on certain codes of sculpture is pretty obvious in the Diamond, for example.
DC: When we displace a form, we create a movement of synthesization which produces sculptures, stones, monoliths, figures, images, etc. I synthesize these forms through the notion of image. Therefore, the image of a stone can be a sort of synthesis that signals sculpture itself because after all, stones are natural sculptures. Don’t forget that erosion is one of the sculptural techniques. So, this is in fact my starting point. The very simple, primordial elements that incite sculpture become the motifs of my universe. I distill the forms, isolate them and give them the central stage. They evoke the history of sculpture but through images and in a very allegorical way.
ST: The images are inspired by the nature, while the production process adapts a sculptural tradition in order to produce forms that seem to be naturally sculpted. Yet, the final objects, by its scale, simplicity, material, colour, etc., intentionally expose the paradox of the natural and the artificial. It’s like a circle game.
DF: [Laughs] Yes, there are multi-layers in this. That’s why computer technology can be important in the sense that it provides a virtual space, a possibility to create a synthesized environment that is totally artificial, and evolves according to its own law, i.e. the law of mathematics. In fact, to work in an artificial way with artificial tools and to produce images modeled after the nature is also a way to examine the living beings. In other words, I try to understand the living by employing artificial tools and ideas related to natural processes, such as erosion. It’s difficult to explain… [Laughs] but I believe that there is something allegorical in it. It’s an allegorical way of representing the living and it goes by the virtual space.
ST : What does the alphabet « X » symbolize for you?
DC: The « X » comes back quite often in my work because it’s a question of situation, locating and marking. The pyramidal form is also very different from the polyhedron that we find in stones, diamonds, etc. I think that there is the idea of proposing a constructed landscape and also the idea of movement, which suggests mobility, a kind of perpetual changes. I try to use scenography, mise-en-scène, montage, collage, etc., to create an artificial world that evokes an existing system in the natural world.
Some years ago, I discovered the work of the German psychologist Friedrich Fröbel [1782 – 1852] who invented the concept of « Kindergarten ». The objects that he designed in early 19th Century to arouse children’s curiosity for learning are ultra-schematized so as to allow multiple combinations. These combinations in turn facilitate the representations of all the human knowledge. I got to know Fröbel’s theory after many years of experimenting with simple forms. His theory in fact helped me to understand better what I had done in the years before. There is a desire for simplification in order to be able to understand the world, the systems that govern different relations… because, at the end, we find the same system in all the domains of human knowledge which are intertwined. Thus, there is the question of representation of the self in the world and of the Universe. There is also the proprioceptive quality in the games because it was the individuals who are attracted to manipulate the games. I see my works in the same sense. They are my personal tools to understand the world. I made these objects to better understand my environment and to find a place for me to live in.
The Artist at Work
ST: You have been living and working different cities in the last years. Do you have a studio? How do you work actually?
DC: The development of my work is a succession of adaptations. I graduated in 1992 and started working in Paris. Immediately, economics of production became a concern. Computer is a way that allowed me to focus more on the conceptual aspect without the need of having a studio. I did a lot of drafts and I looked for people who could fabricate them. The approach became very conceptual but there was some confusion because I didn’t want to be in the industrial production, which is now very trendy. I prefer to work with artisans and with traditional techniques rather than industries. In 2000, my relationship with the artisans began to change because there was an influx of artistic productions and the artisans with whom I used to work became fully-booked. Since my work isn’t commercial enough, I have less and less financial means to produce my work. Then, I started drawing and doing projects executions.
I have been living in Lausanne for five years. I have started to produce works directly by myself. It’s more economically viable and it’s more satisfying both intellectually and in practice. At the same time, certain questions are always at the core of my way of working. How can I be more autonomous, independent, more flexible and therefore to have more freedom in my practice? How can I adapt myself to the situation today? These questions led me to deconstruct my own works, to undo and redo and undo and redo them.
ST: Concerning the undo and redo process, I have heard of the story of the column. Can you explain a bit?
DC: In 2004, I was invited to do an exhibition at Circuit, an art centre in Lausanne. I found a column in the basement and I started to put objects around it. Then, I decided to repaint the column in black so as to single it out as an architectural element from the rest of the building. An ambiguity started to set in. We could no longer be sure if the column was a constructed “sculpture” or if it existed there all the way. What followed was that I re-fabricated an identical column and a year later, in 2005, when I was invited for an exhibition at La Chapelle Jeanne d’Arc de Thouars, I recreated the site by positioning the column upside down and with a pedestal that resembles the dimensions of the ceiling in Lausanne. In a way, I have recreated a site within a site by transforming the object into something completely ritual. The column was showed at another occasion, in a gallery, along, without pedestal, and it took in another form.
ST: We are really at the limits of architecture and sculpture. The line of demarcation almost disappeared…
DC: It’s one of the central questions of sculpture, which makes it different from painting. Painting is better defined through its frames, but sculpture can be anything, in any form. It’s a question of displacement. Objects that can be displaced have a direct relationship with the specific site or context that they occupied at a given moment. In the Lausanne show, I just took something from an existing context.
ST: That’s how an object slips in and out of a context easily and spectators are given the freedom of interpretation.
DC: I think artists today are also researchers, we always at the helm of redefining where sculpture situates. I think that sculptures today can be situated at a very large scope. That’s why there are always shifting and movements. In fact, we are less in the fixed object but more orientated towards the exploration of a gesture and a movement which allow an enormous expansion.
ST: Where does the idea of re-fabricating an identical object and showing it in different contexts come from?
DC: I think it’s a mode of reproduction which is tied to a way of observation. Sculpture is also about life, about how we construct life. Thus, the question is: how can the created objects reflect the reality that surrounds us, and at the same time, perhaps in a utopian manner, act on the concept of reality and transform it. There is also the idea of undo and redo. This process allows me to reinvent my earlier works and to transform them into something different.
ST: It seems to me that such process of undo and redo is a bit anti-market…
DC: I am not the one who can tell… I just do it like that!
ST: Thank you very much!
About the Artist
Born in 1969, Albertville, FR
Lives and works in Lausanne, CH
Selected Solo Shows:
Périmètre étendu, Galerie Arts et Essais , campus de l’Université de Rennes II. (7 mars – 24 avril); La memoria Scivola, Galerie Laurent Godin Paris. FR (Juin); Le partage des pouvoirs, Anne Mosseri-Marlio Galerie, Zurich, CH (2011); Les contours farouches, Galerie Evergreene, Geneva, CH (2011); Solitario, Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris, FR (2009]; Chausses-Trappes, Fri-art Centre d’art contemporain, Fribourg, CH (2008); Encore une fois, Domaine de Chamarande, Chamarande. FR (2008); Polyamid Spirit, Galerie Evergreene, Geneva, CH (2008); Miroir-miroir, Le Creux de l’Enfer, Centre d’art contemporain, Thiers, FR (2008]; Art Forum Berlin, Galerie Laurent Godin, Berlin, DE (2007); Erotique Ether, Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris, FR (2007); FRAC Basse-Normandie, FR (2006); XYZ Turner Contemporary at Substation Project Space, Margate, GB (2006).