Caroline Achaintre: Camp Coo

The University of Hertfordshire is the venue for Caroline Achaintre’s latest solo exhibition Camp Coo, which will run from 1 March until 4 May 2013.

Known for her textured, material work – referred to as “tufted” sculpture – which has been showcased in exhibitions at the likes of the Saatchi Gallery in London, Achaintre navigates the viewer through junctions of tribalism, humanism and multiple personalities throughout this exhibition. Building upon this textured reputation, this exhibition features mainly ceramic artworks created by Achaintre throughout her eighteen month tenure as the artist in residence at the University of Hertfordshire.

Walking into the exhibition space, Achaintre’s vulnerable ceramic work accompanies you down the length of the gallery space to where her climactic piece ‘Birdsssss’ awaits. Individual ceramics sit upon furniture plinths designed purposely to accommodate them. Even in this ceramic medium, Achaintre’s work is lovingly textured with leather, or metal, or a pummelled, embossed appearance. The variation brings the tribal, shamanistic motif of her work into contemporary 21st century. Some of the flatter pieces, like ‘Temp Mint’, hang fixed to surfaces looking like shields and this armoury resemblance is strengthened by the wrought texture.

Meanwhile, pieces such as ‘Foxxy’, ‘Theresa’ and ‘Logg Nab’ theatrically consume space with their helmet and masking structures. They add humanity to the exhibition by representing a duality between what is human and the fantastical. This is further heightened by their familiarity to masks of the Italian-born theatre: commedia dell’arte. Despite this outlandish characteristic, the sculptures’ folds translate the empty, shell shape to the viewer as introvert, protective and vulnerable in contrast to the armoury strength that can be seen in the same exhibition.

Speaking to Caroline Achaintre, she is keen to express the process in which these ceramic pieces come to life as “part process, part accident and control” but ultimately “spontaneous”. She manufactured them using paper clay in which the extra fibre allows her the freedom to manipulate a thinner material that withholds its structure much more strongly. The resulting range of shapes and structure gives the exhibition “multiple personalities,” Achaintre states.

Later, Achaintre mentions how much she “really enjoyed” her residency at the University of Hertfordshire and we discuss the introvert nature of her ceramics in contrast to the extrovert ‘Birdsssss’. Achaintre works from the back, pulling individual pieces of tufted wool through a canvas. All angles of the piece are visible and since the viewer can see the piece from behind, the full visibility presents the artist’s perspective of the creative process. ‘Birdsssss’ was created specifically for the space of the Gallery. As it is suspended within the architecture, light peeks through the canvas from in between the tufted wool. From the front, this combination of light and a glimpse of canvas provide a sheerness that vies off the impenetrable material.

What is striking about Achaintre’s Camp Coo exhibition is just how many dualities and contrasts just a few individual pieces of artwork can support. For example my personal favourite, ‘Temp Mint’, was an aesthetically simple enough piece yet strikingly modernist amongst the tribalism of Achaintre’s work.

The Art and Design Gallery of the University of Hertfordshire is a wonderfully usable space. Achaintre most definitely uses it to complement her work to full effect. The pieces exhibited here are lovely and thought-provoking however personally I feel it is a shame that Achaintre didn’t use her reputable catalogue of tufted wool artwork to balance her more current ceramic work.



University of Hertfordshire Galleries
Art and Design Gallery (meet in the gallery 1.45pm)
The University of Hertfordshire Galleries are delighted to present Caroline Achaintre in conversation with Paul Hobson, Director of the Contemporary Art Society. The event will be in conjunction with the launch of the Camp Coo exhibition book.  
Camp Coo examines the junctures between the ancient and modern, the familiar and the exotic, the psychological and the physical with a nod to the long lost divide between abstraction and figuration.
Born in France, Archaintre trained as a blacksmith before travelling to London to study at Chelsea School of Art & Design and Goldsmiths College. Recent exhibitions include those at the Saatchi Gallery, Wysing Arts, the Royal College of Art and Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart. Achaintre lives and works in London.
Paul Hobson is the current director of the Contemporary Art Society. The Contemporary Art Society exists to encourage an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art by a wide audience and to donate works by important and new artists to museums and public galleries across the UK.

The Art and Design Gallery is located at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, AL10 9AB.