When I first met with Claire de Santa Coloma to talk about the pieces she is currently producing for her solo project with 3+1 Contemporary Art, Lisbon, for the next edition of Buenos Aires Contemporary Art Fair arteBA (May 19th-22nd), it was a hard task to choose which language we would do the interview in. Claire speaks fluent English, was born in Argentina, with a French mother (I am also French), and moved to Paris when she was 18, where she learnt how to sculpt. Next she went to Madrid and stayed a couple of years at the Casa Velazquez; now she is based in Lisbon. As we met in her wonderfully light studio in front of Retiro Station, downtown Buenos Aires, we decided that, given the context, Spanish was the way forward.
After telling me of her endless whereabouts, she confessed that once, tired of attempting to achieve the ‘ideal’ sculpture, she hammered 4500 nails into a wooden structure that surrounded an entire room of an old palace in Lisbon. She then connected the heads of each of the nails with a blue string, coming and going from one side of the room to the other. This was in order to find out how much string it would take to cover the complete surface of the floor. This task took her about 807 hours. At the end, the room had been filled with a sense of immense lightness, generating absolute contradiction with the intense labour that had been suffered, but she will never complain about this time-consuming challenge. These spatial or formal explorations appear when Claire de Santa Coloma encounters a dead end to the questions that usually surround her work.
Since spending time at the Casa Velazquez, Claire has become obsessed with solving the questions she asks in her own work. While we spoke we considered the following questions -essentials in her work-, and her answers are for Claire, contained in her wooden sculptures that will be on view at the 3+1 booth.
“Where to place a sculpture?”
To solve this one, Claire is making pocket sculptures, wall sculptures, objects freed from the sculptural aura, fallen from their plinths.
“Why bring forth to the world an object that already exists in it?”
In her wooden works, it is important for her give back to the matter its essence, to let the form emerge from matter itself, to let the gesture get lost by the coincidences of the core and convey a sense of strength.
“What is the point in creating three dimensional pieces of art that cannot be touched? With whom we could not coexist, and that would not take part in the life of one? Why not think of domestic sculptures, lightweight, that one could carry around and caress?”
These sculptures invite us to return to a certain sensuality and seduction of art and let the viewer became a toucher, let him touch the sculpture.
When the weight, both symbolically and physically of the wood becomes unbearable, the search for lightness becomes a greater obsession for Claire. It is in these breaks, where no sculpting takes place, that she finds the answers to her questions, allowing her to return to the matter at hand. These escapes are also, for the artist, another way of facing her many concerns, and the escapes themselves usually take form as drawings.
During the time I visited Claire in her studio, she happened to be in the middle of such an escape. Retiring, temporarily, from sculpture, these drawings are a labour within and about time, patience and resignation, as much for her as for the ones that will contemplate them. The precise exactitude in which the paper cuts allow the light to pass through tiny spaces, shifts the forms according to the light and time of the day. The shadows and the shape of the drawing move in accordance with both the time of the day they are looked at and the position from which they are seen.
By removing the least amount of prime matter as a prise de decision* when making sculptures as well as in her latest series of drawings, Claire is fully aware that gesture she relies on is actually a “false economy”, because in fact this work of apparent lightness requires as much time and precision as emptying the whole sea with a teaspoon.
Photos: Mathilde Ayoub and Nacho Iasparra.