The Certainty of Chance
The onomatopoeic title Trip–Dip sets the tone of Caroline Achaintre’s second exhibition at Arcade, which plunges visitors into the world of ceramics – albeit a deceitful one. Indeed, this new series of works daringly reaches beyond the assumed limitations of clay to reveal a surprisingly malleable, versatile and illusionistic substance. UHU, for instance, one of the artist’s wall-based works, features an intertwinement of indistinguishable leather and ceramic strips.
Each of the dozen or so anthropomorphic sculptures gathered in this exhibition more or less evokes the human head. The lightness of touch that characterises them betrays the fact that, similarly to the artist’s hand-tufted wool rugs, they find their origin in drawing. The patterns of the carpets are based on preliminary sketches, while the ceramic sculptures expand on a previous series of works consisting of watercolour drawings on paper, which were creased and folded into masks and attached to metal poles. While closely resembling these masks, the more recent sculptures were in fact shaped from so-called paper clay, whose supple cellulose fibres allows for thin, malleable layers.
The result is a range of primitive, carnivalesque and sexual forms reminiscent at once of the Commedia dell’Arte, German Expressionism and cheap horror films. Panto takes the shape of a fake nose tied with a ribbon to a head-shaped leather ball, while Shopper looks like a crocodile-skin handbag on a stand whose handles form a large smile. Nearby, the distorted mouth of a seemingly melting mask on a celadon-coloured leather cushion suggests a pathetic version of the film Scream – a notion further corroborated by its title, Gream, a slightly whimsical contraction of the words ‘grim’ and ‘cream’.
Achaintre’s working process follows the principle of accretion as materials and colours are left to permeate each other. Her particular interest in ceramics derives from the circumstance that it is a medium in which the outcome is only partly predictable; it is a truism among ceramists that you shouldn’t fall in love with a piece before it goes into the kiln. As with the rugs, uncertainty is therefore an important part of the equation that defines her work. This exhibition, then, demonstrates Achaintre’s supreme ability to strike a balance between what British master craftsman and industrial designer David Pye* termed ‘the workmanship of certainty’ and ‘the workmanship of risk’ – a capacity to manage the risks and retain an unconditional belief in the certainty of chance.