interview by Gary Carrion-Murayari

Valentin Carron, Waterlily, 2012
Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich. Photo by Stefan Altenburger

Gary Carrion-Murayari: I’ve chosen to speak to you both because of the complex, evocative, or even disconcerting approach that you bring to familiar, everyday objects. Although the results you achieve are obviously different, part of what you share is a process of selecting, transforming and re-contextualizing objects. How much of the finished work exists for you in this initial moment of attraction or repulsion?


Isabelle Cornaro: I choose the object according to typologies and the kinds of histories they seem to carry. For some works, like the jewelry displayed on plywood, they are witness to a certain colonialist past. They also belong to my family, so they are extremely emotionally charged. I usually choose objects that are already used. They have to look like they may have belonged to someone, so the person looking at them can project their own memories or emotions.


Valentin Carron: I think that I am coming closer to this beautiful idea of the initial moment of attraction in my sculptural appropriations like Waterlily (2012)or For why would he have chosen to express himself in a roundabout way in the roughness of stone, if words could have sufficed (2012) that I showed at David Kordansky Gallery last year. There is for me a desire to conserve the copy, like an archaeologist. I mandate myself to make history reappear: I measure, draw, shift.


Isabelle Cornaro, Homonymes II, 2012
Courtesy of the artist; Le Magasin, Grenoble; Balice Hertling, Paris

GCM: I also find how you interrogate the use value of various objects and artworks fascinating in both of your practices. What happens to your experiences of these objects or typologies after they’ve entered the language of your own artwork?


IC: Indeed, I use them as a sort of a language—first I classify them according to categories or typologies, like the category of Western European culture, etc. For instance, in my plaster cast series “Homonymes” (2010) the categories were stylization, naturalism and abstraction. These come both from the history of the object or from established and nominalist categories of art history. When I organize them it can be actualizations of a typology or more composed organizations that draw sorts of landscapes or linear compositions that employ different types of objects. These become graphical elements through casting or modes of display, so I have a much more neutral and systematic experience of them. This repeats from one composition to another—they are arranged differently, so they create a different sentence somehow. It’s not an expressive gesture, but the expressivity lies in their emotional charge. The God Boxes (2013) are compositions of objects cast several times and combined across the sculptures, so it’s a kind of logical or combinatory system. These gestures exert a systematic logic that neutralizes the emotional charge inherent in each object’s expressivity.


VC: For me, there is still a time of the showing of the work, of the installation. One can acknowledge the viewer and at the same time question him: what were you seeking in coming here? I am very attached to the notion of exhibition and the way the spectator moves around in the space. I have to be this spectator. I marvel at contrasts too: heavy and light, smooth and rough, the elegance and the rudeness, thin and thick. Being much more prosaic, I consider when artwork or an exhibition is made, that it’s an act of jurisprudence.

Valentin Carron, Universal, Alfredo, Domino, 2012
Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Presenhuber, Zurich. Photo by Brian Forrest

GCM: I also don’t want to make too much of the ordinariness of the objects that you’re using in your work. Of course, you both often begin with things that are incredibly specific or have a specific personal or cultural resonance. What happens to your work when it leaves this context and is encountered by viewers who don’t have your own cultural frame of reference—or even emotional frame—for the original object or image you’re transforming?


IC: By taking objects out of their context, or by placing them in other orders, I denaturalize what they carry with them. It’s a way of deconstructing the effect we have on it.


VC: This is where the work really becomes activated. After choosing the object, it makes its own decisions from the emotion it implies. These kind of issues that have become automatic for me: what do you mean to me? And for the others? How will I use them? How do I place you in a common language? How can I make you universal?


GCM: You both have a very democratic approach to the mediums your finished works exist in. Obviously, much of this is dictated by the initial concept or source material, but do you feel most comfortable situating yourself within a specific critical or technical language—whether its sculpture, painting, or image-making in general?


IC: Medium is very important. Often, my objects have been scanned or reproduced as prints, so it’s a kind of cast of the object reproduced as an image rather than a volume. Many of the objects that I use are mechanically reproduced or standardized objects that are mass-produced or semi-mass-produced. These mediums allow me to make series or reproduce things. This mechanization is part of the idea of something being neutral, or existing as a system. Each medium carries its own personal history, like plaster or drawing or using hair—so I choose them based on the discourse that the object and its system of organization try to carry.


VC: Everything here is a balancing act between the various cultural hierarchies of the material that I use. For instance, I sometimes devalue the initial object, as in re-making a sculpture originally in bronze with a synthetic material like resin. But at others times, I use the inverse process by casting a ring in bronze that is intended to be attached to animals. I do not want to impose limits on myself. I think that I have to use all material available, a bit like an exercise.

Isabelle Cornaro, Paysage avec Poussin et Temoins Oculaires (version IV), 201
Courtesy of the artist; Balice Hertling, Paris

GCM: There is also a tension in some of your work, especially as it relates to kitsch. You often grapple with the overly familiar, and even banal, existence of certain objects and materials. How do you find the potential in objects that are overly familiar, banal, or even kitsch?


IC: Using familiar or kitsch objects is a way of talking about taste: what we call a form or what we call an object—something that we recognize as an object, or even as an art object, in opposition to something that seems unformed or has no shape, like when I use deliberately informal objects such as pieces of rock or cast mushrooms, for instance. So I am very interested in this relationship between what we call a form and what does not yet have a form—the imagined form—and how the notion of kitsch relates to this devaluation of taste and the unformed.


VC: I think it plays somewhere between desire to show how a certain environment—in my case, an average European small town in the middle of Alps—testified to a geography, and how the locals use decoration and culture in the broadest sense as a signifier. The gesture is small-scale, very reduced.


GCM: Do you personally feel a palpable change in our relationship to objects? Both of you engage with historical modernism, albeit in different ways, and as we move further away from that historical moment, does that change the way you approach your work, or even the way you physically make sense of the personal and cultural artifacts of that time?


IC: Objects last for a shorter time, however I think that the affect we project upon them is still very strong. I don’t use pop objects or very contemporary objects because I feel they are much too invested with where they come from and they are not useable anymore. They need to be a bit older, so there is a certain difference.


VC: No, I think we pretended that there was a collective fantasy of wanting to dematerialize and escape from physical constraints, and it is perhaps here that we see the outcome of this modern history. Through my work, I put more emphasis on shapes or objects that could be concentrations of resistance to this dematerialization. The public desire for adventure with objects eventually became almost exotic.