Q+Art: Marie Aimee Fattouche Explores Dysfunction with Bizarre Mechanical Sculptures
In 1641 architect-artist Gianlorenzo Bernini unveiled the first of two bell towers at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Two months later, cracks appeared in the foundation. When the damage spread to the main church facade, Bernini faced a choice: Keep going or tear the whole thing down and eat the loss? French artist Marie Aimee Fattouche contemplates a similar question with anthropomorphic metal sculptures that walk a fine line between minor dysfunction and total breakdown.
Conceptually, Fattouche’s sculptures hinge on what she calls “structural mechanics”—whether those mechanics arise from the body, the mind, or the environment. Her bizarre works, crafted with sheets of metal, plaster, and joint mechanisms, look like they might come crawling out of a mad scientist’s lab after midnight. With their pastiche of body parts and biomechatronic appendages, Fattouche’s Frankenstein-like creations are more cyborg than mammal or outright monster.
Using what writer and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig calls “classical understanding,” Fattouche looks at underlying form and structure to understand the world. “Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known,” writes Pirsig of classical understanding in his classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. However, Fattouche subverts Pirsig’s idea with work that tries to make sense of the world through systems, laws, and logic—and fails. The result is a delightfully freakish version of our human systems and structures: shattered bodies beyond repair, physical pain, mental circuitry, learned behaviors and thought patterns stuck in an endless loop.
Several years after cracks appeared in Bernini’s bell tower, the project was abandoned and demolished. Whether it could have been saved remains a point of contention. Similarly, Fattouche’s work exists “between repair and improvement, a minor dysfunction to breakdown, a precarious impulse to stability.” Her sculptures look carefully at points of vulnerability in our lives–the cracks in the facade–and asks whether we should, like Bernini, eat our losses or putty, patch, and paint our way into an uncertain future.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Marie Aimee Fattouche discusses the power of play and new materials, financing in the art world, and the benefits of growing up in a curious family.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Marie Aimee Fattouche: I'd like to start here by pasting a quote that has been framed in every apartment I've lived in since I chose to pursue art as a career. Saying so, I'm guiltily realising I have never read the actual book…will fix that…just ordered the book. This quote was given to me by my tutor while completing my master in fine art:
"And I couldn't forget, at the outset of the job, to prepare myself to err. Not forgetting that the error had often become my path. Every time something I was thinking or feeling didn't work out— was because finally there was a breach, and, if I'd had courage before, I'd have already gone through it. But I'd always been afraid of delirium and error. My error, however, must be the path of truth: since only when I err do I step out of what I know and what I understand. If ‘truth’ were whatever I could understand—it would end up being just a small truth, one my size."—Clarice Lispector: The Passion According to G.H. (1964)
Also, I'd like to tell you about another book: A Woman Speaks, written by Anaïs Nin and edited by Evelyn J. Hinz. I read that book about three years ago, it was handed to me by someone I only met twice and never met again after. I greatly needed that book at that exact moment when my creativity and wholeness felt scattered. I'm not a book reviewer, just read it, you need it.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
MAF: I can imagine hosting a party for three with Rebecca Horn and Marisol Escobar. Marisol Escobar, known to be a party girl, seemed like she was a very confident and full-of-humor artist. I can imagine her being a witty, sarcastic presence and a cheeky guest. While Rebecca Horn being transcendently energizing, transmuting the female body into extensive power, would simply light the dance floor. I bet you'd like to be invited.
What are you trying to express with your art?
MAF: That is a big question. I guess it's the pursuit of that exact question that makes me do art. I mean, I'm trying to express with my art, just expressing is already an act in itself that requires so many conscious and unconscious steps and questions. By allowing myself to express all the parts constituting my bodily, mentally, socially, contextually, culturally, ancestrally, politically, astrally, I'm discovering who the whole of me is and not just the image my mind chose to build. Pursuing art is an everyday statement of my malleability, uncertainty, permeability, and this is what my works wish to unveil.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
MAF: I guess this is already my life and all our lives as artists. We exhibit for free in galleries and spaces hoping to get a commission fee on our work if it sells. Yet every time I exhibit somewhere, selling or not, I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to show my work to an audience, share a space with other artists and simply take out the work from the studio to actually deliver it so that it doesn't belong just to me anymore.
What person has most influenced your work?
MAF: Over the years, there have been a lot of people (artists and non-artists) helping to shape my artistic research. But if I had to choose only one, then I'd say the person who's known me for the longest, and that's my mum. Though she was for many years the main opponent figure in my life to let me pursue art as a career (she always wanted me to focus on product design), she has been very important in shaping and pushing my creativity to always be ambitious and thoughtful. She is an amazing thinker and a great engineer, like all my family, father, sister, and brother. To have such a mind oriented and curious thinking family, always imagining possibilities and projects, has greatly influenced my creativity to take any shape. It comes as no surprise that my work developed with an interest in mechanics.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
MAF: I find it hard to fully enjoy pleasurable moments if some guilt lies in it. I know it is only an expression and purely means "pleasure you wouldn't admit you enjoy." Then I guess procrastination would be a guilty pleasure, guilty for myself, ‘cause I feel more proud when I'm active and guilty to admit to others, ‘cause the idea of procrastination in itself is affiliated with an unsuccessful path to looseness. Though I can find some interesting outcome to successful procrastination (by successful I mean un-guilty), for example, these outcomes could be a good rest, an unstressed drunk mind, a full belly, a couple of orgasms, hydrated hair or skin, a full disgust for any reality shows for the next couple of weeks.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
MAF: Every time I finish a work, document it, and post it online I feel it's an achievement in itself. It allows me to move onto the next step in my research. It always feels like a big relief. Before I got to pursue art full time as a career, I was sort of a quitter, I had always many projects and was often changing jobs, always feeling incomplete. The day I exhibited my first sculpture, I remember feeling very emotional about having finished something I was proud of. I still feel very grateful to have found my calling and that I have taken on a thrilling, never-ending quest.
Also, I'd say that professionally one of my greatest artistic achievements has been winning the Red Mansion Art Prize in 2017, and thanks to that, I've been able to take part in a month-long residency in Beijing. It was very inspiring and made me want to participate in other residencies abroad. Thanks to that time on the residency, I introduced clay into my main working materials.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
MAF: The best advice I got was from my tutor during my MA. He told me to play and think through making. Playfulness is a very important part of my process. If I wasn't treating my studio as a playful ground, I could never introduce new materials. Playing allows intuition to experiment without judgment on the outcome.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
MAF: I feel the art world lacks openness at the moment. I grew up in a family uneducated about contemporary art, and know exactly the kind of feeling associated with this elitist world. I wish the critical conversation was made more accessible and less pretentious. I think the topics researched in contemporary art today are very important to everyone and could be told in a more approachable way and more inclusive spaces. Also, I wish the art world would be financed by less shitty people. Lots of big companies in the pharmaceutical and weapons industries are buying themselves a conscience by funding the art world. Unfortunately, the art world needs them today, and it is thanks to them that most museums still exist, yet art should be ideologically free from money schemes.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
MAF: It depends on the working phase I'm in. If I'm needing to focus on concepts, I like it silent. If working on metal sheets, I'm more into music. My latest liked singles on Spotify are “Showtime” by Illa J, “Atamone” and “Karaköy” by Brazilian Girls—very smooth, just making me enjoy the process of weaving. And if I'm working on clay, I like to listen to podcasts that will teach me stuff about Egypt. Since it is my parents' country, but I was born in France, I always feel the need to connect to my origins. These days I'm into learning about the narratives of ancient Egypt, but also about pan-Arabism and Nasser's influence.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
MAF: The pandemic has definitely made artists and curators think about exposure differently. A lot of online initiatives built up, bringing international people together. I took part in two shows online with Toula Gallery, one of these was a solo show. It was a big challenge as a sculptor working on materiality to present my work only within a virtual space. It really pushed my thinking to evolve and I ended up presenting, along with pics of my work, a lot more writings than I ever did exhibit before. I think a lot more virtual art spaces will grow in the coming months.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
MAF: I have been collecting leftovers of zinc plates abandoned by construction sites. This metal, composing the Parisian roofs, has the particularity of being very malleable. From these scraps, I prepare and cut strips, which I then start weaving into baskets. The action of weaving, which stretches over time and repeats itself, calls for active meditation, the act of seeking a connection. Each line, simply intertwined, without drilling, without violence, one by one in its humility, participates in the metamorphosis into a unit, a solid and robust volume. Each thread, rod, lamella or hair accepts the curve to anchor itself in a vaster destiny. This African craftsmanship, which poetically fights mass production, witnesses patience. Through this ancestral practice, unity seems possible, a mutualized share, a cultural and humanist weaving.
Weaving is above all an intimate art that is shared and formed through its process, the hands of the community in rhythm ritually repeating the gestures for a vaster destiny. Each basket then becomes the container of a narrative, the storyteller of body parts.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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