Caroline Achaintre was born in Toulouse, France, in 1969. They spent their formative years in Germany where they studied Fine Art at Kunsthochschule in Halle/Saale from 1996 to 1998, followed by postgraduate studies in Fine Art and Combined Media at Chelsea College of Art & Design, London, from 1998 to 2000 and an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London, from 2001 to 2003. They trained as a blacksmith before coming to London, where they now live and work. Recent solo exhibitions include those at FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims; BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead; Tate Britain, London; and Castello di Rivoli, Turin.
Caroline Achaintre presents a series of ceramic sculptures and a wicker screen for the Baltic Triennial, all charged with a certain kind of transience and multi-personality, which can be attributed to the artist’s wide range of influences including horror films, heavy metal iconography and German expressionism.
The large wicker screens are hand-made by Achaintre with the specific desire not to make a perfect object; as an untrained basket-maker they do not attempt to attain perfection in the weaving but instead approach them as 3D sketches, albeit ones that have a huge presence in the space. The gesture of their making is still apparent: they are dilletantic and have an angry energy that is exacerbated by the fact that they retain a drawing-like quality. Acting as doors and masks at the same time, their semi-transparency charges them with a feeling that they may be a portal or a membrane to another world.
This potential for movement between them, to some place that is ‘other’, is important too, not just for the screens but for all of the works. What is this ‘other’ that is being referenced? The exoticism of ethnographic museum collections is a stereotypical post-colonial trait – Achaintre is critiquing the fact that those spaces are a watered-down, hybrid version of those realities, while suggesting that they are a reality in their own right, which might not have much to do with the original but instead constructs a new truth.
Creating a habitat for their ceramics is important to Achaintre, too, through the furniture they rest on. Their plinths are not ordinary: they have something of a postmodern design and at the same time are quite totemic. They question the nature of how, and where, we view art. So often the exhibitions we see collide with the architecture of the museum or gallery, and Achaintre’s attention to display critiques the idea that as a viewer you’re supposed to ignore it, or not acknowledge the clash. Here, part of the construction of the new truth of the exhibition space is to play on the friction implicit with those methods of display.
To call the ceramics here ‘masks’ would be a misnomer: Achaintre speaks of them as though they are characters in their own right – as they are as much alive as any other being, in their own way. The way they work with ceramics means that they have a tendency to look quite fragile but also still malleable – as though the life within them was suddenly frozen, as in a photograph, and that it has the potential to continue living at any moment. There is a shamanistic element to the work – an animism where there is a shift between the object and the subject, in a similar way to how Dr. Jekyll and their alter ego Mr. Hyde posit the idea that there are two poles within one person, and the conflict within their personality is always there within all of us.