Artist interview, with CLAUDE CATTELAIN
Expo : 12.10.18 > 1.12.18

Interview by Nathalie Cohen, assistant curator, MAAC

The exhibition Straight Ahead by Belgian artist Claude Cattelain is presenting the practices he conducted during his three-year residency at the Maison d'Art Actuel des Chartreux. His works are driven by enchantment of unstable constructions, tensity and counterbalance.

One of the essential issues I find in the work of Cattelain, is the control of time, and the acceleration or stretching of time. There, remains however, some parts that resist. Among these spaces that Cattelain builds in his installations.

Before the artist left his studio at the MAAC, we met to exchange some ideas about his artistic practice.

NC : The visually immersive open-rear installation of yours, completely covered with wet clay, marked by imprints and traces of performative actions, has amazed me! I was wondering, Is the intuitive is indispensable to your work ?

CC: “It started when I found some clay left-overs accumulated in my studio and i wanted to spread them out on a surface, so slowly it will cover everything. It was simple and clear for me as an image, with no limits apart the space itself, Similar to the throwing rocks scene in Stalker, where this is the way they find out the direction. The instinct brings it from the body to the landscape. that’s a principle.”

NC: Do you believe repetitions have something to do with courage ?

CC: “No, Not specially. Its more about finding the limit of the movement, the gesture. The repetition is there to explore the physical limit of your body. When you make a repetitive action, to walk, build, rebuilt invariable constructions. Its not a question about courage, it’s about what happens when you do something over and over again, then something different happens that you don’t have control over, maybe I’m in this research at this moment, when something unusual, unpredictable arrives. And I try be very attentive, when i work with repetitive actions, being careful with all these little things that I can not predict. After, there’s something else in the repetition, “La fatigue”, you try to do far more then you usual habits, you’re in a state of mind of concentration that creates something very clear in the present moment. I like this kind of action, you split with your body. What you have to do is in this exact moment...”

NC: If the first part is the limit research, and then, the moment of surprise, does sometimes it’s became literally, as if being on the edge, moments of not falling...

CC: “Yes. In the past, in my video work of being on the border of the rooftop (Don’t try, 2006), moving slightly behind on the verge... If I’m able to make that in my own apartment or at another place.. Of course in this situation I didn’t want to fall, I’m waiting for this surprise. I’m interested in all these little moments you cannot predict, when a leaf fall of a tree...? Why this moment and not a second after, its as miracle.. In this action there’s very tiny poetic detail that astonishes me...”

NC: Indeed, this embodied preciseness also transmits to the spectators experience, I believe, when he/she obliges to enter also into a state of concentration in the gaze of the performance.. that leads me to the next question, about the sauna-cabins. I felt as there was a certain amount of silence charged with the visitor listening. How do you consider building this atmosphere within the space ?

CC: “Well.. first It was about importation of an exterior architecture to an interior one. From these impressions of perspectives I created the insides the cabins, after that, I think when I make an exhibition with videos, I try to create a climate for presenting them, where there was something plasticy. It’s necessary to take the visitor by the hand and lead them to a different feeling, which is speaking about the world outside through the filter of an art-proposal. I’m more and more intrigued by physical installations, when the body of the visitors are slightly disturbed, something that is unusual for them. To create something with their body so maybe they can enter to my work.. with their own mind. Its simply about narrowing.. I work from the body to a landscape, there’s are many metaphors of what you explore with your body and the world outside.”

*moment of silence, while NC writing down again CC ‘s last sentence.. *

CC: “You know, because for me, its more and more important, exhibition after exhibition, to not make an exhibition. I’m not sure, if it’s good now.. It’s away for me this direction.... today I am more interested about life, its often difficult to create artistic projects and to see its not life... and... timidly, for example I love to have the participation of people who are not interested in art... last year, there was a small form in clay my daughter July did, that was also included in the presentation. There was no idea behind it, it was simply funny to play with the clay. I wish to open my work to these essential and natural directions... as if life and art were the same thing.”

NC: I see what you mean, this moments of disbelief you can’t differentiate whether its art or life.. or perhaps how they translate to each other...

CC: “Yes its a contradiction, you want to create something strong, but also be quietly at home... where is the border.. The essential work of an artist must be how to connect these two possibilities”

NC: maybe because of that I was thinking about courage as other values such as persistence and perseverance.. its beyond artistic practice, it’s for survival.. For attacking another subject. Let’s talk about your installation at the exhibition at Brasserie Atlas, Anderlechet last month « La poursuite des choses évidentes » part of the collaboration with En silence. When I visited it, I literally moved in times, in floors, imagining, how you build-up the white heavy pole attached to the ceiling and how you were going to dismantle it.

NC: Could you elaborate about the importance of movement in the action you created in the space ?

CC : “I’m not sure what you mean.. But I can tell you that, for example when I arrive to the studio in the morning, I don’t know what I need to do.. Its just the idea to move with the conditions around me, the tables, the wood.. Everything comes from there, the movement is capable to organize a reflection in your brain. Beyond that.. something more important than movement, I’m not sure.. maybe its intuition. More and more I feel with certain actions, its a human condition, then its also open for interpretation.. First I work with movement, could become ridiculous, the object you manipulate, the people around it, the context, many factors.. Like ”Open-calls”, I find it stupid, to respond to a certain subject… the context is always there, its about adaptation, and being flexible in your current proper situation...”

NC : I think its also about finding the state of being comfortable, when you sitting on your knees on the raft in the video Radoub.. You have to be comfortable to explore the space around in the water...

CC : Yes, being loose. I ask myself, how to welcome the people, welcome to the threshold so they still in the confusion what they have to do… until…

NC : something happens ? An accident of A serendipity ?

CC : “Yeah, to be stupid, naive, with no defined destination. It’s getting even more difficult to be amazed and not jaded.. like an animal, to work just with your nose to follow a way..”

NC; So, my last question, is also about sensibility you work with, related to breathing. You have a fascination for suffocation or asphyxia , Could you please explain your intention of its transmission to become concrete ?

CC : “Ehm .. In the second video, when I’m breathing over a wood timber, for me its the “beating heart” of the exhibition, this video in loop of 3 seconds could simply show this complex physiological thing we all have to do… its about expansion and restriction.. and a question of movement, too. For me, when you breath, you are on a line, in the middle of a symmetric action.. in-between of being ridiculous, stupid, or tragic and on the other hand, being clear and clever. I think about Beckett, you must laugh about yourself, about the world, without the tragic aspect, otherwise, you cannot move ! Its very important, its impossible to be exactly always in this middle, as in breathing, movement from left to right, inside outside… keep being conscious.. Suddenly a scene comes to my mind, as in the end of the film of Fitzcarraldo from Herzog Werner.. when you see Klaus Kinski sitting on his broken boat, smiling with a cigar in his mouth, when all his projects failed, the opera in the forest.. Back then I didn’t understand why I loved this image so much… For example in Armature variable (work from 2010), the structure keeps falling, the boards of wood are always in motion, maybe it will never be achieved ?“

NC : Its a nice idea to close this interview with.. where is the end or the beginning… Thank you Claude !

Cattelain is showing his work also in Montreal these days, SOULEVEMENTS - Galerie de l'UQAM and he will have another monographic exhibition in Brasseurs in Liege in February 2019.


MAAC : Rue des Chartreux, 26-28 - 1000 Bruxelles La MAAC est une initiative de l’Echevine de l’Instruction Publique, de la Jeunesse, de la Petite enfance et du Personnel de la Ville de Bruxelles.