By SOPHIE HILL, NOV. 2014
Adeline de Monseignat’s solo exhibition at Ronchini Gallery has been long awaited. After graduating in 2011 with an MA in Fine Art from City & Guilds of London Art School, de Monseignat’s abstract, yet curiously intimate, globes of fur were seen everywhere – from Yorkshire Sculpture Park to the Bleeker St Arts Club in New York. It comes as no surprise that an artist who is unafraid to combine emotion with conceptual art has been so successful. Her abstract works have a very physical and often personal presence that grants them the seeming power of life – they are, as was the title of her last joint show at Ronchini, uncanny.
To be invited to de Monseignat’s studio feels very personal; her works often act as an extension of her own memories or reach into the past of others. The sculptures possess the very physical attributes of fleeting moments – the smooth skittle-shaped ‘creaptures’, wrapped in babies’ muslin, are the exact length and weight of artists as new-borns, one representing the artist’s mother. Sitting in a chair across from us, one of these ‘creapture’ asks to be held; it is an acute presence among our conversation, like the bricks of ‘The Weight’ that line the wall. Each brick is wrapped in fabric, embroidered with the red words of the child Meine’s traumatic story of abuse (the work was made to support an exhibition for the children’s charity Dramatic Need). These bricks were sold individually, sharing and spreading the weight of Meine’s story – it is touching that de Monseignat no longer has all them all. de Monseignat’s work often separates itself as part of its progression; her signature ‘Baby Hairy Eye Balls’ – hand-blown glass globes filled with reclaimed animal fur – were sold individually from their large and breathing ‘Mother HEB’. ‘Leaving the Nest’ then documented the new life of the ‘baby HEBs’, with de Monseignat compiling a photo album of each in their new ‘home’. Home is important; it is the all too ‘close to home’ aspect of her work that ignites her sculptures – indeed, home is the crux of her new exhibition.
The idea of home has expanded across de Monseignat’s studio in the shape of a new installation. (Re)Construction of the Self is made of an iron frame that mirrors the shape of the classically drawn house – a square with a triangle roof on top – the width of the created room the same as de Monseignat’s childhood bedroom. The walls are made of red and white striped awning, taken from her family apartment in Monaco, and once inside I am asked to sit on a small mattress or seat, covered in the fabric that made up de Monseignat’s bed as a child. It is very intimate and when I lie back – which I’m encouraged to do – I see the ceiling in the shape of a house. I feel childish, like I’ve been invited inside a special den, and it is inside here, in the soft pinkish glow of the awning that awoke de Monseignat’s childhood dreams, that we talk.
“When I thought about the solo show” de Monseignat tells me, “I thought about how intimate it is, how you really open up yourself to the public. I thought to myself, I really want to open up this notion of intimacy and what is the most intimate space I can think of? I immediately knew, my childhood bedroom is this one place that is so sacred”. Using the very material of her childhood home de Monseignat creates this sacred place. Entering is to leave the studio behind; we are in a home, a feeling only encouraged by the snugly nestled ‘Hairy Eye Balls’ in the centre of the room. de Monseignat’s previous ‘Baby HEBs’ were installed in a nest of sand around their large Mother; these babies have been put to bed, de Monseignat’s bed sheets pulled and tucked up around them. The private view will be interesting, de Monseignat laughs, as only a few people will be let into the installation at a time. It does seem as if it should be a quiet space; sitting on the softly worn bed sheets stirs a peculiar feeling of nostalgia, because of course to be reminded of home is to be reminded of not being home – a feeling of safety followed by longing. The subtlety of this feeling is something de Monseignat looks to harness, as she explains how our concept of home creates how each of us feel, fear and react to the unknown. “Actually”, she tells me, “the route of the word ‘uncanny’ is ‘un-homey’ – what isn’t home, what isn’t familiar. That's the threshold of the familiar and unfamiliar”. So perhaps it is de Monseignat’s previous explorations of ‘the uncanny’ that have led her back home.
Thinking about the uncanny, I come back to the installation’s ‘Hairy Eye Balls’, the physical presence that is in so much of de Monseignat’s work. These beautiful sculptures are crystal-ball encasements of waves of fur; each fibre is pushed up against the glass, revealing the changing colour right down to the root – every one is different, possessing its own personality. These things appear as beings – ‘creaptures’ – and it is no wonder that de Monseignat describes the process of making them as visceral, as giving birth – “it grows in your guts…you literally bring it out in the world and then it’s this other thing that isn’t part of you anymore. Now it has its own body and people can interact with it. Each piece, individually, will spread in people’s minds and people’s homes, people’s own life stories”. It is La mort de l'auteur, de Monseignat exclaims – as only someone who speaks French can – and it explains why de Monseignat’s work is so personal; she allows it to be. She sets her work free to appeal to our emotional nature – “I do want my work to be quite universal and talk to everyone on a very basic human level”. It’s not the case for all artists, and I wonder whether many deliberately shy away from letting emotion enter into their work, worried that it will appear too personal, or even trite. de Monseignat also puts this down to process; if an artist is not involved in the making of the work, then it immediately becomes more removed – “if they’re interested in an intellectual concept then it of course it’s a lot less physical…it becomes conceptual in the very sense that the work becomes an extension of what they were thinking about but not what they were making.”
Installation View, Adeline de Monseignat, Home, Ronchini Gallery, 14 November 2014 - 17 January 2015. Courtesy the artist and Ronchini Gallery.
It’s no wonder that de Monseignat places such importance on the process when she sees her making – her giving birth – as an act of release with the potential to spread. Another new work for this show is the Seed Pod, a bulging form of foam, its head covered in a scattering of ‘seeds’ – very tiny Hairy Eye Balls. Visualising the very early stage of existence, this work is pregnant with the potential of life. Neither obviously male or female – de Monseignat muses “it could be an ovary but it could also be a testicle” – these seeds are ripe for the scattering; like the other ‘HEBs’ all 101 will be sold individually. Imagining the seed pod empty, or even half-full, seems slightly upsetting and I ask whether it’s difficult watching one work separate itself; following the exhibition she, like us, may never see the work as it stands now. “No”, she shakes her head, “that’s where other people come into play and that's why my work could not come to life without others”. The spreading of seeds is part of de Monseignat’s art form: “there’s this notion of selling work that I actually don’t feel ashamed of, sometimes people are like ‘oh when you become commercial’, but it’s not about becoming commercial at all, it’s about wanting your work to live”. Selling isn’t just about money; sometimes we forget that the passage of an artist’s work is also about sharing – furthering understanding and points of view – and de Monseignat reminds us of that.
As part of this process, de Monseignat places agency in the hands of the materials she uses. (Re)Construction of the Self is literally made of the fabric of de Monseignat’s memory and the fact that it is fabric – which she often uses – is deliberately poignant. For de Monseignat fabric is part of the familiar: “we know fabrics so well because we are surrounded by them all the time; we live in them, our clothes, and our homes are just filled with fabric”. It is the notion of with every fibre of my being – actually the title of a series of ink drawings in the exhibition; fabric has the ability to build a work’s body, fabric is the DNA. To accompany the installation de Monseignat has framed the work’s ‘DNA stripes’ – fraying samples of material that together form the blueprint of her inspiration. What’s more, de Monseignat explains, every material she uses has come to represent something – the blank bricks of The Weight have become spaces or a silence; the white baby muslin that coddled each of her ‘creaptures’, protection. What is wonderful is that she is determined to remember and come back to each of these meanings, creating a language of symbolic existence: “I just tell myself, you know 40 years down the line, when I’ve created a full-on dictionary of what every material means, what every sculpture means, and I can just have a whole dialogue”. I really look forward to that conversation. WM
Sophie Hill is founder of postcardwall, an online publication about art inspired by postcards. Sophie has curated exhibitions for galleries in London and New York, and regularly writes text for artists. Sophie graduated from the University of York in 2009 with a BA in History of Art & English Literature; she lives and works in London.
view all articles from this author