The softest punch

Cathy de Monchaux’s sculptures are full of contradictions. She spoke to Beatrice Colin about her work.

‘l’m not interested in making an as a placebo,’ says sculptor, Cathy de Monchaux. In her first solo British show, sumptuous red velvet is crumpled between brass riveted by bolts, and leather is concertina-ed by slabs of alabaster. Suggesting Venus fly-traps, chastity belts or ancient instruments of torture, her work consists of visual contradictions which both seduce and disturb.

Cathy de Monchaux is one of the most exciting young sculptors working in Britain. One of her pieces was chosen for last year’s Art Council’s Recent British Sculpture touring exhibition and she has several major solo shows on the continent behind her.

Working from drawings which resemble anatomical studies, she constructs painstakingly detailed pieces which look as if they can be used to perform some function. Although her sculptures look animated they are in fact static. ‘The materials start off very similar it seems. because the velvet and the brass come in flat sheets. The metal stands for the way i draw and the fabric creates the three-dimensional aspect of the work. I invent a structure and in some ways the contrast between the materials is a metaphor for the differentials which are running through my head.‘

Fashioned into highly decorative shapes including hand and heart forms, her sculpture evokes medieval objects, fairy tales or baroque details. Sensual and

mechanical, male and female, and flesh and bone, Scarring the Wound is woven with ribbon and clamped tightly shut.

‘There is an obvious issue to the work, and that issue is inevitably that I’m a woman; it would be irresponsible to ignore that. But apart from that on one level, there’s the whole way that the materials are working together; it’s quite kitsch. On another level there's an idea of luxury, comfort and otherness of the way you think about things beyond your means or reach. There’s practicality and there’s emotion and l’m using them to draw you into the work.’

Some have found the vulnerability and strength of her sculpture vaguely threatening. ‘My work does make you feel anxious physically because of the nature of the materials. The fact that the pieces look functional give them a nervous element. I’m also interested in striking up a dialogue with the white wall ofthe gallery space. Some ofthe pieces look very flat against the wall and then as you come closer, they become three-dimensional, and with

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other works, you’re actively drawn in through the materials. l’m playing the game both ways, sometimes with denial and sometimes seduction.’

With titles like. Defying death I ran away to the fucking circus and Keeping secrets from myself she intrigues the viewer further. ‘That kind of personal. narrative element, as in the titles of the works, come from the fact that my interest and my route is in literature,’ she points out. ‘This is not particular to me, but my gender. In literature there are far more kinds of models of expression than there are in art; you can go back as far as 1960 and that’s it. On one level I see myselfas a mainstream artist and not as an outsider, but at the same time there is a kind of anxiety there because l am a woman. We have a very short history and we’re just at the beginning. I'm working in very exciting times. it would be really boring not to investigate the fact that we’re different.’ Cathy de Monchaux at the CCA from Sat 23 Oct—27 Nov.

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The List 22 October—4 November l993 55