Carolein Smit, Barometz 2016, Galerie Fontana.
At Ballroom Project, the Amsterdam-based Fontana gallery shows new work by artist Carolein Smit, known for her sculptures of biblical and mythical figures. We talk to her about the cat sculptures she made for Ballroom Project and her work in general when she is just glazing her sculptures; a part of her work she is not particularly fond of.
Does it suit right now?
I am glazing and that is very meticulous and time-consuming work. Glazing lasts forever. You have to apply it three times, and the colour red even 4 times, and you also have a lot of waiting time, like now, so I have some time.
When I look at your sculpture, they seem to be very made with a great eye for detail. Is glazing the most time-consuming part of the process?
It seems so indeed. They look very precise, but they aren’t that precise. I am more of a tinkerer and if you look closely at my sculptures, you can also see that they were made with a certain speed. I am looking for a balance between beautifully finished and slapping everything together. Sculptures by others are often very sleek, but with me you should never look at the bottom.
Carolein Smit, Uil, 2020, Galerie Fontana.
I can also imagine that your sculptures, such as the owl with its plumage, take a lot of time to make, is that also difficult for you?
No, that's not a problem. I do what the sculpture calls for. The detailing of the sculptures is indicative of the number of works I produce annually. That is between 25 and 30 sculptures. Finishing a sculpture properly takes a lot of time, then you are often already busy working on the next sculpture in your mind. That saves time, because I never sketch, for example.
What are you working on for the Ballroom Project?
I am currently working on two life-size cats (45x55x25 cm), a dead rag cat and a live forest cat. I have to say, I understand why the curator picked my work, because it comes into its own in spaces such as the old city palace where Ballroom Project takes place. He plans to install them on a chimney. It is also no coincidence that my galleries in Brussels and Paris are located in the antique dealers' district.
Indeed, your work seems to come from a different era. How do you explain that?
I can imagine someone saying that. I have always had a preference for old art because those works and objects are often made and executed more beautifully, judged by today’s standards. I also enjoy religious and anatomical collections and cabinets of curiosities. You can also see that in my work, which is full of archaic types such as the devil, the man of sorrow, shamans, skeletons and the rat king.
Carolein Smit, Skeletten vretende duivel, 2016, Galerie Fontana.
Why do you prefer such collections?
For me these collections are related to an attempt to explain mysterious phenomena and to answer the questions why there is life and where we come from. Those collections show the deviant to affirm the normal and elevate the supernatural to contain the vagaries of nature. They suggest order and security. At the same time, they warn against the chaos that will ensue as soon as we let go of the proposed order. They contain images that both scare and exorcise, a beautiful ambivalence.
By extension, your work also touches on the classic vanitas theme.
That's right. Within those collections I have a predilection for everything that has to do with the vanitas theme. The presence and certainty of death makes life worth living. There were many beautiful expressions about this in the past. The way in which small cups were carved out of wood and ivory in centuries past really appeal to me. Sometimes a skull with a half that is still alive or a sick-looking half, or a Tödlein, those are little dancing skeletons. These items do not just reflect an awe for death, but also a zest for life and longing.
Why are you making cats now?
Well, I have two dogs and we have a dog door for that. The neighbour’s cat entered through that door. It was a hassle to get it out of the house again...
In any case, it happens that a few weeks later I suddenly make sculptures of cats. All animals that I make a sculpture of are found in my immediate vicinity.
A good example of this is the owl sculpture. I live in a very rural area, which also happens to be the nesting area of the Eagle Owl. These are enormous birds, so once you spot one of them, they make an impression.