Active Agents / Passive Matter by Josephine Cachemaille

Studio installation, 2014

Active Agents / Passive Matter

Josephine Cachemaille

28 October to 09 November 2014

Active Agents / Passive Matter finds artist Josephine Cachemaille revisiting her ongoing speculative efforts to examine her capacity as an animist. While taking the position of the “curious skeptic,”[1] Cachemaille suspends disbelief and tries to imagine how animism can influence her work, as she seeks to animate materials and objects with a sense of presence.

New works include large-scale paintings of iron pyrite, rendered in glowing, light-responsive metallic paints that create illusionistic, three-dimensional effects against dark, matte backdrops. The perceived spiritual significance of the mineral, colloquially referred to as “fool’s gold,” is Cachemaille’s case study for the way we imbue inanimate objects with power and influence. Magnified to fill each composition, the stone becomes an ambiguous, abstract form with a mystical, compelling quality.

The idea of giving agency to the inanimate is extended in accompanying sculptural works, as Cachemaille examines the varieties of animation and vitality that we attribute to certain images and objects: autonomy, motivation, aura, fecundity and other symptoms of “vital signs.” Discarded and found objects – often revealing a thrift store aesthetic – are charged with new significance through Cachemaille’s transformative, ‘animating’ processes. Working in this context, Cachemaille references amateur, homemade creativity, and manual work with tangible materials. There is a crude, grungy quality to these works that can be attributed to the raw honesty and integrity the objects themselves.

Throughout Active Agents / Passive Matter Cachemaille draws on art historian WJT Mitchell’s concept of “double consciousness,” discussed in his book What Do Pictures Want? (2005). Mitchell observes that as modern people we relate to images as if they are alive; “demanding things from us, persuading, seducing, and leading us astray.” However, when challenged we are certain that “works of art do not have minds of their own, and that images are really quite powerless to do anything without the cooperation of their beholders.”

Mitchell describes this double consciousness as "vacillating between magical beliefs and skeptical doubts, naïve animism and hardheaded materialism, mystical and critical attitudes.”

Like Mitchell, Cachemaille believes our magical attitudes towards images are as powerful in the modern world as they were in the past. Her work is an effort to draw us into this terrain, prompting us to consider how this slippage occurs seamlessly, to notice our own “double consciousness” and where we position ourselves in relationship to it.

“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 ...

“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.”[2]

[1] Virginia Were, 2013

[2] Virginia Were, 2013



Born: Nelson


Education:Master of Visual Arts, Auckland University of Technology (current); Diploma of Visual Arts, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology; Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, University of Otago

Awards/Distinctions: Dunedin Fringe Festival - Best Visual Arts Award (2008)

Collections: The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland

Public Exhibitions:Cruel City, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2013); 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 (sculpture installation), Manifest Sculpture Show, Nelson Arts Festival(2007); Hometown (painting installation), Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, 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); Graduate group exhibition, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (1996)

Publications/Articles: ‘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, pg 15; Far, Far Away: Romance, Anxiety and the Uncertainty of Place Exhibition Catalogue, Hokianga Art Gallery, 2009

Artworks featured in: New Zealand House and Garden, Mar 2011

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