Monday, 5 December 2011

Old Marks and Burn Marks: The 51 Homes of Cadine Navarro


Last weekend, this Wandercat was invited to an open studio by artist Cadine Navarro. Not having done this before, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Fortunately this was not a formal affair, but rather an intimate and friendly occasion. I was warmly invited into the studio, situated in a magnificent old distillery in the suburbs of Paris, by Cadine herself (who is currently in the process of leaving the space).

Her artwork was arranged around the large room, some of it mounted on the walls, some on tables, one piece on the floor just as it had been when she had drawn it. The other guests and I were free to move around and examine the pieces at our leisure, and also had the benefit of Cadine on hand to answer our questions.


Born in Japan and holding both American and French nationality, Cadine has spent most of her life moving between different countries, through what she describes as 51 homes, and her artwork reflects this transiency. The first piece by the door was a looped video of circling pigeons, as seen from her window in one of these homes in Brooklyn, and it was an entirely appropriate introduction to her work, both revelling in liberty and at the same time imprisoned – a dichotomy of the travelling life which recurs throughout her art.




The next image crystallised the sense of this exhibition: a list of her homes, written horizontally but presented vertically like a bar chart, with each one colour-coded to country and given a few words to describe her emotions when living there. It felt like a barometer, or an ECG machine sharing the beat of the artist’s heart.


Many of Cadine’s paintings and sketches show the aftermath of meals – the act and rituals surrounding eating being something which is replayed in every country. “No matter where we go we have these daily rituals,” she explained, “We all need to nourish ourselves, and these are universal forms…these recognisable shapes since the beginning of time”.

The presence of circles and rings in the pictures, often as plates or glasses, reflects the idea of the Buddhist mandala, in which one can seek wholeness of the self, and equally the turning of the cup within a Japanese tea ceremony. They also refer to the idea of life existing in cyclical patterns: what we leave we will eventually rediscover, or be rediscovered by. Cadine’s pictures give a gravitas to objects which might be seen otherwise as banal – one of the standout pieces manages to sublimate a teapot.


I found myself attracted to half drawn or hidden elements – many of the rings or arcs are imposed over other images, or built into the picture with texture. Often they resemble stains left by coffee cups or wine glasses, or hot dishes – the sort of mark we are used to seeing in everyday life, stains on the palimpsest of experience and existence.

I asked Cadine about these old marks and burn marks:

“Each experience makes up our identity, and we try to wipe them away, perhaps, but they are always there and they define us…To move from place to place is not just an easy step, it’s actually quite a challenge to pick yourself up and to move on…all these things, they texture your identity”.

“I like charcoal because it has in itself a grit, a texture to it…you can wipe it away like a word; it’s almost the same as lead for writing.”


The primarily dark tones of her work were offset by some pieces featuring startling blue, visual shocks which counterpointed and strengthened the rest. The pictures managed to be at the same time ephemeral and lasting, something passed and yet resurgent; the whole series of work is infused with a sort of message-in-a-bottle hopefulness, as though proving that in recording fleeting moments we can preserve and protect them.

In the artist herself I saw this duality of form – someone both looking for a fixed place in the world and unwilling to be constrained. The final word must come from Cadine herself: “52nd home? Good question. I will have to start looking now.”




MP

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