MAP: When a boundary is implied—social or political—is it important to work within it or outside of it and why?
CF: We can hardly imagine a working condition that doesn’t imply a boundary. Limitations are always present and more often they shape the work, because making a work of art can be a response to the impossibility of fighting that which directly oppresses us. Ignoring limitations is a difficult and fragile position, we could say it is almost reactionary because it corresponds to a simulation of a sovereignty that no one possesses and especially not the artist.
MAP: Applying a singular female persona to a collective has specific implications. How does this dynamic function?
CF: Choosing a female name for a collective was a precise decision which was made with the consciousness that women are always discriminated against, the art world being no exception. The name Claire Fontaine comes from a French brand of stationary, it evokes Duchamp’s urinal, Nauman’s work around the artist as a luminous fountain and Bresson’s character, Monsieur Fontaine in Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (A Man Escaped), a convict who evades jail.
Besides these references it is a female name that in French literally means ‘clear fountain’ and is mentally associated with things such as transparency, recycling, spontaneous and continuous regeneration. We also decided that Claire Fontaine would be the name for the empty center of our collective activity, the name of the artist, always absent and always somehow detached from the situation. We, as much as all the other persons implied in the realisation of the work call ourselves the assistants of Claire Fontaine. This is not a fiction, on the contrary, it is a more realistic picture of the productive process than one coming from the position of identifying with ‘our own’ work or ‘our own’ signatures. It renders the complexity of every creative process.
MAP: Subversion, and the conceptual dogma of the 1960s and 1970s has inadvertently rendered art an indirect political tool—do you agree, and to what extent does your work exercise within these contexts?
CF: It should be carefully discussed whether or not art has ever been a political tool for resisting something and what can be a political tool today. Art has always had a very important governmental function, and visual space is more than ever essential to the affirmation of authority, so you might find that contemporary art nowadays is mostly a promotional message for capitalism. The 60s and the 70s were decades where public space still existed and its preservation from commercial colonisation was at stake. Visual expression was valued differently, the economy of the visible was totally heterogeneous from the one we live in today. That context and ours have nothing to do with each other, today the commodity has invaded everything with its language and its texture; institutional critique is a necessary action that just cannot be avoided. Now we are at the stage of a meta-commercial critique, to a sort of metabolisation of pop and of its ‘mass reproduced’ reception.
An artist can of course try to work outside this frame but it is very difficult and the grace of the first gestures of artistic resistance is now to be found elsewhere.