Essay by Virginia Were
In her darkly funny installations Josephine Cachemaille combines the earthy aesthetics of 1970s home craft projects with the earnest, aspirational language of the self-help industry.
She takes a skeptical position, poking fun at the growing phenomenon in the West of pop psychology and positive thinking, the irrational idea that material wealth and good fortune are manifested by the universe and bestowed on true believers. An idea she believes is ultimately harmful.
Strange, anxiety-provoking sculptures made from found objects have been cleverly reanimated to look like charms or talismans. These are teamed with dark, chilly paintings of star spangled skies that have been folded or suspended in the middle of the room so they too become three-dimensional objects.
The paintings are emblazoned with hopeful fragments of text, such as ‘Recover’ and ‘The Universe Will Provide’. These positive mantras seem jarringly at odds with the empty night skies and the rustic objects, which are like quickly improvised stage props or allegories for human vulnerability to addiction and depravity.
Especially affecting are the carved wooden fingers made from branches, which clasp roll-your-own cigarettes, give ‘the fingers’, or clutch wooden bottles. They seem hungry, insatiable and compulsive.
Cachemaille’s sumptuous, monochromatic paintings are reminiscent of the late Tony Fomison, while her way of appropriating cast-off found objects, which she then tweaks by burning, carving or inscribing them with text, brings to mind the anthropomorphic sculptures of Francis Upritchard.
In her latest works Cachemaille identifies with the artist’s role as animist – constantly seeking to animate materials and objects with a sense of presence. She draws a comparison between her own activity as an artist/animist and the new-age belief in a benevolent, subjective universe – also a contemporary form of animism.
In these recent works, exploring the physical and metaphorical properties of pyrite, a mineral colloquially known as ‘fool’s gold’, she takes the position of the curious sceptic. The biting sarcasm of earlier works has given way to a sense of curiosity as she suspends disbelief and tries to imagine how animism might work for her in her career as an artist. What would happen if she created a series of objects that could function as charms or talismans aimed at key figures in the New Zealand art world? Would it be possible to attract recognition, success and wealth – all the things artists dream of?
In particular she zooms in on Australian television writer Rhonda Byrne’s self-help books, which propose that believing will allow you to achieve your dreams. Cachemaille asks: could holding a stone and thinking positive thoughts really bring good fortune as Byrne suggests?
In the big, bold, glitzy paintings of pyrite we can almost discern faces and bodies emerging from the rock. The body – albeit one that is strangely dismembered – and its potential to embody agency and magic, are always central to Cachemaille’s work.
The ability to create constant tension between animate and inanimate forms, and her sensitivity to the emotional register of materials and objects, and what they can say about contemporary beliefs, is what gives Cachemaille’s work its undeniable frisson.
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