San Francisco

Claire Fontaine // Wattis San Francisco

“Clairefontaine is famous for its exceptionally white and ultra smooth paper.” This ad for the French brand of stationary has little more to do with Paris-based collective artist Claire Fontaine than the name. Fontaine appropriated her “stage name” from the paper brand and declared herself a ready-made artist. She works internationally creating conceptual art and has just completed her installation in San Francisco. Her most recent work is entitled Redemptions and will be on view in San Francisco at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts from January 22nd through February 16th.

Curated by Jens Hoffmann, Fontaine produced the work during her residency in San Francisco as part of the Capp Street Project, the first residency program created in the United States dedicated only to the making of art installations. The work hangs at the Wattis space on Kansas Street in Potrero Hill.

The new expansive Wattis gallery space has been congested by Fontaine’s confrontational installation composed of transparent plastic trash bags filled with thousands of aluminum cans hanging from the ceiling. Every square inch of the ceiling in the main space is covered by these hanging bags of colorful garbage. Suspended overhead, the objects are oppressive and heavy with connotation. The soda pop and beer cans are, of course, familiar to us. They are our everyday products, our recycling taken out to the streets. In an urban setting like San Francisco, the cans are associated with the homeless and unemployed who roam the city filling bags like these for the redemption price of aluminum. The cans represent our overuse, our consumerism, our destruction of the planet. While these weighty, dangling themes are heavy with innuendo, I can’t help but add that we are perhaps excessively familiar with them.

Though it may be true that the neo-conceptual and post-modern are bound to repeat themes from the spectrum of art history, this does not call for monotony. Perhaps it is true that nothing wholly novel can be created in Art today. Fontaine is among many contemporary artists who annunciate their inspiration and even direct emulation from past artists as part of their own artistic process. This method of idea-recycling is often interesting and novel in itself, however the work by Fontaine feels restricted and lacking in creativity. As contemporary art enthusiasts, we have seen trash displayed in a way that makes it aesthetically pleasing and/or thought provoking. Japanese artist “Mr.,” showcased piles of trash in a Chelesa gallery in 2012, Lara Favaretto used discarded found objects in her Monumentary Monument at documenta (13), New York City even has a museum of trash.

In the center of the gallery, Fontaine has built an aluminum smelter reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s Twelve Hundred Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling Over a Stove (1938). The connection between the famous ready-made antecessor and the “trash as art” theme is already made clear. I suspect, Marcel Duchamp would have hoped for more progress by now.

It is important for San Francisco to be exposed to artwork and artists like this. Fontaine is interested in the object, working with it to exhaustion: creating, discarding, recycling, and reconstituting. While it is certainly not novel, this principle here is interesting and perhaps telling of the route in contemporary art. If we have surrendered ourselves to the idea of avant-garde innovation, then perhaps this is our new artistic reality: trash bags hanging from the ceiling. The point we are trying to get across as artists may still be avant-garde, and in so express some personal novelties. Perhaps these are our new materials: we have replaced our oils for aluminum cans.