Before I got into the storeroom I imagined that the paintings, sculptures and objects might be a family, rife with rifts, loyalties, feuds, loves, and tolerances, held hostage in a building. Fancifully, I thought that maybe I would be a kind of therapist helping them express their inner lives. I assumed they would feel trapped, desperate, disconnected, but mostly they felt quiet and ready. It was weirdly moving.
– Josephine Cachemaille, 2017
At the time of writing, Josephine Cachemaille was preparing for an exhibition at Suter Art Gallery, Us, Us, Us, that involved juxtaposing her own work with artifacts from the institution’s collection, and with its fixtures and fittings. Her aim was to emphasise the interconnectedness of the physical and the intellectual, a relationship still routinely presented as an opposition. In her catalogue essay the show’s curator Sarah McClintock notes that while Cachemaille’s work incorporates a range of mediums and methods it tends not to juxtapose but instead to combine them. “Rather than a presentation of discreet, conceptually singular artworks,” she writes, “Us, Us, Us is instead a body.”
McClintock notes that Us, Us, Us demands more than static viewership; instead, the visitor must navigate veiled areas to access the project in its entirety. “By entering the space,” she writes, “you have become part of it.” It’s a claim familiar from a good deal of art after Minimalism, but in this case holds true; it also feels conceptually appropriate to a practice focused on the interplay of individual and group. Examining the fantasy of a subjective universe indulged by the self-help industry – a relentlessly positivist field in which, to borrow the title of Thomas Harris’s 1969 pop-psych bestseller, I’m OK – You’re OK – Cachemaille ponders how a greater commonality with other human beings and the cosmos might look and feel.
Cachemaille also characterises herself as an animist. It’s an old term but, in the context of emergent theories such as Object-Oriented Ontology, might be one due for a revival. The idea that animals, plants, and even non-living things have a spiritual essence doesn’t seem so far removed from the critique of our still relentlessly human-centered worldview propounded by philosopher Timothy Morton in his focus on complex “hyperobjects.” But the artist doesn’t accept animism unflinchingly; when Cachemaille works, as she often has, with found objects, any appeal to magical thinking is tempered by an implied critique of the idea that the natural world could be anything but indifferent. Yet she still believes in a kind of (for want of a better word) magic.
The conversation extracted at the start of this text also sees Cachemaille discuss – with writer Jaimee Stockman-Young – animism’s deeper history as an anthropological construct, exploring its relationship to colonialism and the history of New Zealand. “How can we consider this concept as part of ‘New Age’ spiritualism,” asks Stockman-Young, “when ideas like this existed within Kaupapa Māori long before our ancestors took this land and in many other indigenous cultures, or cultures outside of Western influence?” “I am exploring the possibility that we are all animists,” responds the artist. “As Bruno Latour said, ‘we have never been modern.’ The idea that the world of objects and world of subjects are separate has always been an illusion.”
Cachemaille has mined this condition in a series of exhibitions at Sanderson Contemporary over the past few years. Most recently Feel Up! (October 2016) saw her transform the gallery into something resembling the site of an encounter group. The artist introduced participants to such intriguing objects as Collaboration Cloth I and II, unstretched canvases painted with large black arrows and punctured by holes that invite the insertion of limbs and heads, resulting in shared costumes that force their wearers into awkward, angular, Twister-esque intimacy. Such objects – or simply “things” as Cachemaille prefers to call them – combine irresistibly comic physical situations with a serious dialogue around collective action, thought, and feeling.
In Same As It Ever Was (February 2016), Cachemaille presented constructions and collages that reached not for a shared consciousness, but instead for a common and/or alternate past, sketched out in material to hint at archetypal landscape. Combining studio bits and bobs with other discarded objects, the artist turned her unnamed site into a battleground, exploiting the various tensions – violent, erotic and otherwise – that are invariably conjured up by found articles of clothing. Viewers weren’t called upon to involve themselves in quite as direct a way as Feel Up! would later demand, but the primacy of the body was again the show’s subject and structure. The idea of animism played a part too, reminding us of the non-inertness of ‘inert’ matter.
Two years further back, and we come to 2014’s Active Agents/Passive Matter, in which illusionistic paintings of iron pyrite – a.k.a. “fool’s gold” – signaled a familiar disjunction between materials’ demonstrable use value and the various kinds of symbolic status with which we invest them. The artist refers here to W.T.J. Mitchell’s 2005 book What Do Pictures Want?, which discusses “double consciousness,” our tendency to relate to images as if they were alive while simultaneously denying their influence. According to Mitchell – and to Cachemaille – art has lost none of its magical power, even if we are in denial of the fact. And so the artist’s practice goes, raising ideas around the visual and the tactile, questioning what we expect “things” to do for us – and what happens when we leave them to their own devices.
Essay by Mike Wilson
BORN: 1971, Nelson
EDUCATION: Post Graduate Diploma in Art and Design, Auckland University of Technology; Bachelor of Arts, University of Otago; Diploma in Visual Arts, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology
AWARDS/DISTINCTIONS: The Molly Morpeth Canaday Award - Merit Award (2017); The National Contemporary Art Award - Merit Award (2016); The Wallace Art Awards - Jury Award (2016); The Wallace Art Awards - Finalist (2016, 2014), Best Visual Arts Award, Dunedin Fringe Festival (2008)
COLLECTIONS: The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS: Us, Us, Us, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2017); The Molly Morpeth Canaday Awards, Whakatane Museum and Arts (2017); The Wallace Art Awards, Pataka Art and Museum, Wellington (2017), Pah Homestead and Wallace Gallery Morrinsville (2016); The National Contemporary Art Awards, Waikato Museum, Hamilton (2016); The Vanguard Project Residency, Nelson (2016); Testing Testing, G Space Gallery, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (2014); ); The Wallace Art Awards, Pah Homestead, Auckland (2014); Cruel City, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2013); Recover, G Space Gallery, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (2011); Artist in Focus, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2010); Are You Positive?, Corridor Gallery, Nelson (2010); Far Far Away: Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place, Hokianga Art Gallery (2009); Home Away from Home, Dunedin Fringe Festival (2008); Hometown installation, Nelson Arts Festival (2007); Home Away from Home, Nelson Arts Festival (2006); Fine, Shed 11, Wellington (2006, 2005); Undercurrent: contemporary emerging artist’s exhibition, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2006); Project (collaboration with Yvette Byrd), The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2005); no space (collaboration with Sharon Hall), The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2004)
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: ‘Rebirthing the Body’ by Jaimee Stockman-Young, Art New Zealand, Autumn 2017, pp 90-93; FEEL UP! exhibition catalogue, by Lana Lopesi, Sanderson Contemporary, Oct 2016; ‘Auckland Art Week: Josephine Cachemaille Unleashes Magic’ by Grant Smithies, Sunday Star Times, 9 Oct, 2016; ‘Hex induction hour’ by Virginia Were, Art News New Zealand, Summer 2013, pp 104-107; ‘What’s Next?’ by Rachel Ingram, Art Collector: 2013 Special Edition - Auckland Art Fair, Aug 2013, p 15; Cruel City exhibition catalogue, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson, 2013; Far Far Away: Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place exhibition catalogue, Hokianga Art Gallery, 2009