The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers: 2.10 Claire Fontaine

June 02, 2009 to July 02, 2009

French artist Claire Fontaine's practice responds to a feeling of political impotency in contemporary culture and is motivated by the history of radical protest, particularly the Paris student uprisings of May 1968. However, Fontaine's work does not only directly relate to the politics of the late 1960s, she also consciously references artwork from the same period. Situating her practice in this way functions less as nostalgia for a specific historical moment, and more as a reminder of a time when art carried an urgent political message. Equivalent VIII (2007) is composed of bricks wrapped in book covers from texts of radical literature. Referencing the bricks thrown by the 1968 Paris protesters, these texts are symbolically and literally turned into a device of dissent. An homage to Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII (1966), this work also merges political activism with a formal minimalist statement. Fontaine is similarly influenced by the social anarchist idea that ownership is theft. Passe-partout (Frankfurt) (2008) is a set of hacksaw blades, paper clips, and other necessary tools for opening locked doors, while the video Instructions for the Sharing of Private Property (2006) demonstrates how to pick a lock. Produced in several different languages, Foreigner's Everywhere (Arabic) (2005) is from a series of neon signs making the statement of its title. With its reference to issues of immigration and the anxiety surrounding foreign terrorist threats, the sign articulates a growing suspicion towards the unfamiliar.

by Jens Hoffmann

Claire Fontaine is a ready-made artist. There is no actual person called Claire Fontaine that stands behind the works made and presented under this name. She was born out of wedlock by two parents called powerlessness and political impotency. Coming to life in Paris five years ago, she was raised and nurtured by two artists. Her true identity is unclear but her disposition has been described as high-strung and antiauthoritarian, deprived of any individual skills or originality. She observes the world around her with a special interest in culture, and the political realties of today's world. Philosophy is of importance to her too, as are the fine arts. While she acknowledges a feeling of often overwhelming loneliness, Claire is class-conscious and carries a revolutionary sprit. She has a soft spot for the protest movements of the late 1960s and the theories that nurtured the political activism of those days. Claire can seem romantic, perhaps even a little nostalgic at times. Yet, she is not naively dreaming about the ideas that were put forward four decades ago, by the bricks that were thrown, the speeches that were given, the books that were written or the art that was made, which momentarily seemed to offer a solution to the rotten values of society. She has her feet on the ground and it is unmistakably clear that her work asserts a pragmatic and profound engagement with critical political thinking and action. Claire's life is a remix; a constructed identity of appropriated elements that are collected only to be redistributed. She identifies with thieves and bandits. She likes Bert Brecht, especially his ideas of collective artistic creation, and frequently quotes Walter Benjamin, who had an enormous impact on her when he remarked that information is always accompanied by barbarism. Claire also has a humorous side, she loves all kinds of neon signs, especially those that spell out radical slogans. One neon sign that she presented reads "Pay Attention Motherfucker," and is for a society on constant alert, filled with fear of an imminent alien invasion. Claire is a prolific writer and her letters offer us essential insight into her character. In an early letter to R., written during the riots in the Parisian suburbs 'where all buildings are rectangular,' Claire expresses her repulsion and sadness in light of society's persistent tendency to remain cold and detached despite the obvious tyranny, exploitation and repression inflicted on all of us by those in power. She has the soul of an anarchist. Her best friend is Herman Melville's Bartleby. She and Bartleby are uniquely connected. On strike most of the time, they refuse to perform their so-called duties. They are united in the realization that to halt production is the only form of resistance in a world robbed of any meaningful form of political discourse. Her name, Claire Fontaine, is the source for much speculation. Some say she was named after the famous French notebook company or the well-known children song À la Claire Fontaine, others propose that she was simply given the most generic French name possible, still others claim that her name is a play on the title of Marcel Duchamp's famous readymade Fountain (1917) signed by R. Mutt. It may be that he is the same R. to whom Claire has addressed several of her letters.