A hollow mask, moulded from thin ceramic and textured like snakeskin, sits atop a triangular, welded-steel frame, the mask’s simple features comprising two blank eyes and a gaping mouth. It’s a primitive fetish object on a display stand, until you read the title, Shopper, and then that gaping gob transforms into the space framed by the upside-down, dangling handles of the shopping bag to which the object’s title and its form now obviously refer. This effect, akin to pareidolia – seeing faces in inanimate objects – is a recurring feature of encounters with Caroline Achaintre’s work that, alongside slippery ceramic objects, also includes large tufted-wool rugs and colourful inks and watercolours on paper (the latter on show in her exhibition Mooner, through 1 March, at London’s Arcade gallery). Exhibitions often include selections of the above objects presented within geometric shelving structures that wouldn’t look out of place in high-end department store display.
While the use of ceramic as a material has seen a resurgence in recent years, Achaintre’s visual references – primitive-looking fetish objects, carnival, the chunky forms and candy colours of postmodern design – are to many still as unfashionable as pottery once was. Her foregrounding in her art of the pleasure in process and materials might also be viewed as the less dominant paradigm (over a focus on concept and theory). Yet these and other frictions – between fashion and taste, abstract and figurative, art and design, and primitivism and postmodernism – are also why this work gets under your skin. And stays there.
Originally published in the March 2014 FutureGreats issue, in association with EFG International