Taking her name from a brand of French notebooks, Claire Fontaine is an intellectual space whose core is empty since the most important part of her identity is cooperation. Instead, the collaborators who form Claire Fontaine consider themselves to be her assistants. Claire Fontaine was born out of a refusal to accept the division between intellectual and manual work. She chose the art world as the best place to avoid this type of hierarchy, declared herself a “readymade artist”, and began to elaborate a version of neo-conceptual art. She makes artworks that often resemble those of other artists, working in neon, video, sculpture, painting and text. However, she refuses the qualification of “appropriationist”, preferring the one of “expropriationist” that insists on the use value of the borrowed references, and on the political meaning of theft.

At Witte de With, Claire Fontaine’s works will be presented within the remains of Liam Gillick’s retrospective exhibition Three perspectives and a short scenario. Gillick created a meta-structure throughout the galleries of Witte de With. Within this framework, he designated certain spaces as “institutional zones”, which he offered back to Witte de With’s curatorial team. This gesture was a manifestation of his refusal to take sole responsibility for the entire exhibition space and highlighted instead the division of responsibility between artist and institution in the creation of any exhibition.

The curators decided to use this space to propose a program of solo presentations, of which Claire Fontaine’s is the fourth*. Their invitation to Claire Fontaine was motivated by an appreciation of specific similarities between her practice and that of Liam Gillick. Both experiment with collective protocols of production and explore the notion of ‘détournement’, although their conceptual and visual vocabularies differ significantly and provide opposing narrations of our conflicted present. Claire Fontaine’s smoke inscriptions written on the ceiling of Witte de With’s galleries (2007-2008) are extracts from feminist texts that allude to the condition of work and the possibilities of resistance through inaction and refusal: “The worker has the possibility of joining a union, going on strike, the mothers are isolated, locked in their houses, tighten to their children by charitable bonds. Our wildcat strikes manifest themselves as a physical and mental breakdown.”

Both Gillick and Claire Fontaine create work amongst the ruins of authorship. At Witte de With, Claire Fontaine presents the neon text PLEASE COME BACK (K. font) (2008), composed of fluorescent tubes, which are commonly used to illuminate the disciplinary spaces of schools, factories and office buildings. This text – placed within one of the seemingly empty spaces of Gillick’s retrospective – can be seen as a call to Gillick to return and assume the authorship of his work. It can also be read as a plea to the exhibition visitor, who finds themselves in a potentially confusing situation. However, the work is also conceived as a homage to the vanished Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, whose quasi-mythical status nowadays threatens to overshadow his work.

—Supported by

Institut Français des Pay-Bas