The past is imprinted in the world of objects, in everything that we call “inanimate” even though if it did not have some kind of “anima” it would not encourage the memories.
The work of Nathalie Rey pivots around memory, which she guts and sews on her operating table, dissecting recycled stuffed animals, her “little monsters”.
Intelligence should not intervene in the archeology of memory, at least at first, in a first approach, wrote Proust, because we will only reach its hidden folds when it is triggered unintentionally. The material and the sensorial world (smell, taste …) helps us in this search.
1. Mike Kelley tuned over his stuffed animals the dark side of the provincial puritanism in which had grown. For you, are they also testimonies of human perversion? Can we say that there is a point of exorcism in the way you stave evil off through your stuffed freaks?
Yes, I think there is a kind of exorcism in my work. When I started working with stuffed animals, I thought, and I even wrote, that I had returned to formalistic concerns. Now two years have passed, and I see it in a completely different way. It has to do with Proust’s reflection that you mentioned at the beginning. When I work, I prefer not to think too much. I have learned to trust my intuition and I prefer that unexpected things come out (as the stuffed animals were, undoubtedly) whose meaning must be deciphered a posteriori. When the meaning of the work comes up suddenly, when suddenly you perceive the thread that connects you to everything else, you enter a state of absolute communion with the universe, like Proust when eating the madeleine or Baudelaire, the seer-poet.
To return to the subject of stuffed animals, I understood what I was doing when I started to inform myself about J-pop (Japanese popular culture) after hearing again and again that my work had a Japanese influence. When I had finished Millenium Monster, I discovered the story of Godzilla, a radioactive aquatic kaiju that was invented the same year as the crew of a ship of Japanese fishing was contaminated by North American nuclear tests. So, after the series Fukushima, Millenium Monster was naturally integrated into my story of varied catastrophes…
2. “Eternal monsters” is the title of one of your series, a nod to the marginal universe that fascinated Diane Arbus. They are caged, segregated for their “anomalies.” In this and other series (stuffed animals dying from radioactive debris, penguins-missiles, “piles” of cattle or ducks …), animals are silent witnesses of the monstrosity of the man. Is it like that?
Yes, I use animals to tell tales, fables, such as Lafontaine or Aesop before him. Disastrous fables, of course. We talk about a very common resource, that of metaphor, that allows you to distance from the facts described. Instead of teaching things as they are, crudely, I use a more ambiguous image than it refers not only to the facts but to a whole related semantic field. I would love for my animals to star in happier stories but they find it far beyond them. In fact, they are survivors. We are survivors.
3. Both the intimate and the historical memory are fields riddled with holes: repressed memories in the first case, silenced episodes in the latter. Do I’m right thinking that these are the lacunas you want to step on? to break silences?
Yes. I really believe that you have captured my work very well! As I said before, at first I do not know what my works hide if I ever get to know it at all! My work is that of Proust: superimpose images, deconstruct linear time, weave a sensitive network that resonates with many realities at the same time. What Proust teaches us, or another immense writer, Jorge Semprún, is that there is always a correspondence between personal events and universal history. In a way, the same happens with Anselm Kiefer when he says that each plant corresponds to a star. There are invisible threads. And the question is to reach these ambiguous strata of our individual and collective past. Semprún was stunned when he learned of Primo Levi’s suicide, which occurred on April 11, 1987, because he had been released from the Buchenwald concentration camp on 11 April. I was born on April 11. You see how we are all marked by a story that we ignore.
4. Your little animals began populating your paintings, and then they took a three-dimensional shape. In the field of sculpture, I believe that you adopt an anti-commercial attitude in choosing poor materials, craftsmanship …, which is clearly expressed in those “assembly instructions” (absurd ones) with which you frustrate any attempt to reproduction.
Right, although it is not a militant position. I don’t belong to an anti-globalization movement. But it is true that poetry hardly arises from the production lines or nuclear plants. Although maybe my purpose is a little more specific. I do not pretend to denounce mass production or the destruction of the planet. Besides, I’m nobody to stop it. Art does not save us from disaster. That utopia has already happened. I’m, like anyone, a product of my time. I am interested in understanding it and acting with what it provides me. Does the Fukushima nuclear accident is produced? Very good. Then, we will see that these images of destruction are part of a new post-apocalyptic landscape tradition. Does it produce a J-pop that devastates all previous cultural models? Perfect. I will use the same products of that culture to make new freaks that transcend the consumer goods. The absurd is a good form of resistance.
5. These days, you are doing some workshops with children. Can you explain what is it and tell us about the exhibition that will result from it?
This is really a beautiful story! The children are fourth graders of the Montserrat Solà School in Mataró. The head of the plastic arts department, Susana Bacardi, contacted me after seeing my work of processed stuffed animals. The children, their tutors and I, will develop a project called “Eternal Monsters” during this quarter. The idea is to sensitize children to an artistic process that allows covering all types of current issues (identity, consumption, environment) from a point of view as familiar and intimate as possible. During the trimester, students will work from their own stuffed animals and toys; then, at the end of May, a workshop will be set up with the families, in which, among all of us, we will “eviscerate” more stuffed animals; this in anticipation of the next and last stage of the project in which I will collect all the processed stuffed animals and imagine, from them, a new work that I will manufacture with the help of the children. This last metamorphosis will also take place outside the walls of the school, since the Roca Umbert (Granollers center) will welcome us, the students and me, within the framework of their residency program. And then we want to expose the whole process, from the work of mine in which Susana Bacardí was interested, through all the works of the students, a few interviews videos of the children as well as a kind of story that I imagined to present the project, a report of the workshop and the residence work in Roca Umbert. The intention is not so much to exhibit works but to teach all the stages of development of the project. A lot of work but a great joy for me because of the enriching experience of working with all those people.
Interviewed by Anna Adell