Adeline Contreras explores in her works a collective memory evoking its archaic, ancestral root. At the centre of her poetics is the primordial ‘shelter’, the search for a sheltered condition that has crossed man’s history since prehistoric times and that he shares with all animals. Cocoon, nest, den, home: Contreras’s sculptural forms refer to an evolution always in fieri, alluding to that uterine space of transition between life – transformation – death in material works that render the tangible, visible, real concreteness of this perpetual metamorphosis. Hybrid, polyform, different in size, shapes, materials, the ‘shelters’ imply the infinite possibilities of inhabiting this world in movement to find one’s place.
Adeline Contreras lives and works in France and regularly exhibits in museums, contemporary art centres and foundations, also internationally.
Memory is one of the topics of your artistic research. But what does memory mean to you? And what kind of memory – personal, collective, archaic – inspires your works?
The theme of memory is constant in the choice of materials that I collect, that are brought to me in the workshop, that I retrieve from right to left. I like materials that already have a history, that are placed in a continuity and that give a new perspective. Memory is also the way in which each person remembers through their senses their own history intertwined with collective history. Our common archaic sense: the belly. The original habitat is reunited with me in the original envelope.
How do you choose the materials you use for your works? What significance do the materials have in your artistic practice?
I prefer to collect, to discover, materials that have a history for me. I am lucky enough to find fabrics from attics, donations, cottons, linens, silks that have been used, patinated by time and the people who used them. It is important for me to place my pieces in another continuity. I collect plants along the paths, I prefer those that have been trampled by animals, by hikers. Rusty pieces of metal are collected in the fields, at the edge of the ocean, it is amazing the treasure that is found at the diversions of a path. In ceramics, the earth I use is the one I found the first time I put my hands in the earth, the sandstone of Saint-Amand, I like its colour, its texture. A ‘companion’, I know how it reacts.
How important and in what way is experimentation with materials part of your artistic research?
When I mix materials in my work, I always experiment with them. This allows me to know before making a piece what material to choose, what texture, what shade according to what I want to tell.
In addition to materials, you use many textile techniques: when and why did you choose the textile medium as an expressive language?
First of all, I learnt to sew with my grandmother, who was a seamstress; I remember the moments I shared with her, I can still see her at her old sewing machine, the needle hanging from her lips. For me, fabric is a very interesting material, it takes shape once it is shaped. A thread is a thread to be unwound, a fabric a flat surface waiting to be wound.
How are your works born? What are the sources of inspiration? How do they develop, step by step?
Natural habitats inspire me: nests, cocoons, my chrysalises, seeds, membranes, all the structures that accommodate evolving life.
I always work from sketches, fill notebooks and then choose the sketch that will become a sculpture. At that moment I already know the subjects and the techniques I will need to make it. Then comes the moment of the construction of each element, textile and ceramic: these two universes each have their own temporality and their own requirements to be moulded. This can take months.
When all the elements are ready, I move on to the assembly phase, all the elements are held by the thread, they form a body together. I am always faithful to my original sketch.
If the sculpture does not fit, I do it again. Taking the time to observe, to look, to make each material fit in with the others and find its place is very important to me.
Three-dimensional and modular, some of your works/installations need to find a way to dialogue with the space. How does the space – the studio where you work, the environment where you live and last but not least the exhibition space where the works are located – influence your work and the artworks themselves?
Sculpture is above all a proposal for the setting of matter in space. It has an important connection with the physical of the beholder, it is the main design condition of a sculpture. What impact it will have on the physical level. My sculptures are made to inhabit a place, to commune with a space, a staging when it is an installation. These considerations are indisputable for me.
A cycle of your works is made up of artist books. Can you tell me how the the form and shape of the book inspired you and what is the poetics of these works?
The book is a daily companion for me, I read a lot, especially poetry, it feeds my daily life. The sculpture-book came naturally, I wanted to tell stories precisely with the delicacy of the medium. Stories that speak of silence, that ask us to draw on our feelings, our memories to tell us something.
The books are often designed at the same time as a sculpture. I always have several pieces in the workshop. In some of my books I integrate texts.
I also collaborate with poets, I illustrate their texts, thus renewing my first loves: painting and engraving.
How has your art evolved over time and how is it still evolving?
I started with painting and engraving, then the textile took its place at the same time as my ceramic training. I traded the brushes for the needles! And naturally the ceramic took its place too. I realize that I’m making bigger and bigger sculptures, research on volume, the sensitive is endless, it’s exciting!
What does being an artist mean to you? And what is the meaning of art in contemporary society in your opinion?
To be an artist is a commitment, a choice of life, a look at the world. To show the sensitive, the delicate of what surrounds us.
What is your most recent project? And which one in the near future?
I recently exhibited at the Centre d’art contemporain in Limoges, France. At the moment, I give myself some time to select projects for exhibitions that are proposed to me, to be realised in the workshop. I have publication projects with two poets, they are in gestation, very interesting projects. Events are very important to me, an exhibition, an art project, they are constructive.