Seductive mind over matter
John O'Reilly meets Cathy de Monchaux
Tuesday 10 June 1997
There is something deeply bewitching about the current work. Objects like Cruising Disaster - a repeated pattern in rusted steel, pink leather and chalk - draw you in with decorative, illustrative appeal before casting a spell. They get inside your head and generate multiple associations and contrary feelings. All these objects look like something. Cruising Disaster and Evidently Not resemble genitalia or at the very least something fleshy. It is Gigeresque in the manner of the Alien films. And the small scale, exquisitely detailed series Trust Your Sanity to No-one, constructed out of brass, leather, copper, chalk, glass and diamante appears vaguely organic in the way that Gaudi's ornamentations occasionally resemble living things.
"It's not really necessary to leave the show with a clear picture in your mind," says de Monchaux, "but when you leave there is some kind of connection. Maybe it's more like when you are walking down the street and something catches your eye and you try to make sense of it. That's the way I want the objects to work in the context of the gallery situation. Perhaps when you go away, whether you love the objects or hate them, there is some kind of lingering trace. Something like an infiltration."
The object that is most emblematic of the way her work gets inside your head is Never Forget the Power of Tears. It is a kind of sepulchre, with tombs made of lead tied down with metal clasps, separated by ornate rows of brass, copper and diamante. It is both striking and demur in a similar way to religious artefacts. The craft, attention to detail and luxurious material echo the artwork for the people as provided by the church. And then there is a glass confessional constructed out of white-painted glass and copper. So how do these religious reference points reflect on the nature of her work as a whole?
"I suppose it's like a cultural plundering of all those manipulations of the spirit that religious iconography is used for. I am just using it in my work where it feels appropriate to make you feel that. It's not coincidental." And when I ask de Monchaux whether this emphasis on the psychological effects of the work detracts from an appreciation of the objects themselves, she corrects me, like a church elder evaluating the nature of the religious icon: "The mental state is the important thing. The objects themselves are just a vehicle to get you there."
Rather than getting trapped in the opulent signature of her own unique style, this show is a clear development of her sculptural language. The Whitechapel Gallery lends itself perfectly to de Monchaux's purpose of creating a self-contained world of objects.
"For me it's important that the work has always been moving. The earlier work has an innocence in comparison to the current work because this is much more worked on. You learn new things and your thinking becomes more complicated and sophisticated. You might look back at earlier work and think 'that's nice' or 'more simple'." Laughingly she suggests that "as you get older, you get to be more of a tragic git or something. It's to do with disappointment." But strangely as it has become more complex it has also become more primitive.
There is something excessive about her work. It has a curious antecedent in the sexualised Art Nouveau where the ornate is invested with libido. Adolf Loos, champion of the functional as a reaction against degenerate ornamentation, even railed against people wearing tattoos, believing that if they were not already in prison it was only because they hadn't committed a crime yet. De Monchaux's work is a tattoo, opulently imprinted all over the Whitechapel, and by this reckoning should be locked up immediately.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account