ATW Artist Talk is an interview series where we will be speaking with artists that we’ve worked with around different themes relevant to their practice. The conversations are accompanied by their images and video footage.
To launch the project, we’d like to introduce Toulouse based mixed media artist Yvonne Calsou.
Yvonne Calsou: Time & Space
Yvonne works with drawing, installation, photography, sound and video to examine our environment and those quiet and unnoticed shifts that alter it. She adopts processes of erasure and subtle interventions into often unconventional urban and natural sites, that both employ and disrupt our perceptions of space and time.
Interview conducted by Art Talk Write in March 2021.
ATW: First of all Yvonne, please tell us what time and space mean to you?
YC: Time and space are notions that are intimately linked for me: what interests me about time is the impossibility of really defining it, of grasping it or restoring an exact perception of one’s experience of it. You can either freeze it, cut it up, represent it or try to show its effects. As for space, it is the environment where I live, where I am at that moment. But it is also space that I will play with to question this notion of time and in which I will inscribe the work.
ATW: What led you to use time and space as underlying themes in your practice?
YC: The fascination for these themes is linked to my childhood where from very early on I understood the evils of time and the fragility of things. I lived in the countryside in a place steeped in more than two centuries of family history. Raised in the cult of the past, I nevertheless perceived its dramas and, through certain indicators, the signs of a form of social decline. Haunted by this nostalgic past, I constructed a romantic representation of the world. On the other hand, and paradoxically, the close link woven with the surrounding natural world made me discover the power of animal and plant life, the eternal restarting of the seasons and life cycles. In this natural environment, I felt the importance of the lived moment; to seize a light, a shadow or any micro-event linked to the slow rhythm of nature’s evolution. And now I question this tension in the perception of the present time in places that carry memory. Or, as Joël Baqué writes in La mer, c’est rien du tout (2016), I question how the past makes the present sparkle.
ATW: Can you explain how you use time and space in your practice as ‘materials’? And how does this influence your choice of mediums?
YC: I try to play with the different facets of the term “time”. Depending upon the project, I may be interested in memory, in the fleetingness of the moment or in the ephemeral. Sometimes I deal with all these dimensions together, using the cycle of the seasons as a reference. Often, more than a material or a theme, time is part of the creative process. The choice of medium is made according to where I am and what I am experiencing there. It can be a window pane, a wall, paper, fabrics, the floor etc…The media imposes itself according to the project. The photograph allows you to capture the moment, the sound enables you to perceive a flow, a duration (unlike filmed images, you are unable to stop sound). To draw, I use non-permanent materials with creative gestures that also evoke the fragility of things: erasing, removing, piercing, fading. I also call upon light to produce fleeting drawings that evolve in space.
Temps coloré, bleach on black canvas, 1.50 m x 2 m, Toulouse, 2014
Uchronie, ephemeral drawing with charcoal and Spanish white, Saurat, 2020 Co-production Ancienne Pharmacie
ATW: How has the year 2020, when our conception of time and space has changed considerably, affected your perception and your relationship to these themes?
YC: In the year 2020, it was within my daily life that I was radically confronted with these notions of space and time. All my projects were being cancelled one after the other, and the vagueness about the possibility of rescheduling forced me to live and create in the immediacy of the moment without projecting myself into any future. Just to create. But the hardest thing in this shrinking space-time was the feeling of being enclosed in a place with no horizon other than the house opposite or high walls.
ATW: How has this affected your artistic practice?
YC: I therefore felt like transcending this lack of air and space by mapping, through a paper piercing technique, a place where I like to go, Sainte-Sigolène (see images below). The regular rhythm of piercing the paper echoes those of footsteps walking through the region. I have also taken up old lines of research that I had previously set aside: looking out of the window to see how time changes over the course of a day, or restoring the garden’s transformation with the arrival of spring. (See the series Et par la fenêtre, regarder l’écoulement du temps: https://vimeo.com/399494054).
ATW: You integrate both natural environments and urban spaces into your work – how do you choose the sites where you intervene or from which you create a project?
YC: Whether in the city or in the countryside, for my interventions I look for places in transition waiting for a new destiny or those freshly renovated for a change of destination. The ideal site is one where I can use artefacts from the past, reactivate a memory while giving the perception and feeling of the passage of time. I am also looking for places that offer the possibility that the work, or part of the work, can be visible from public spaces. This allows me to provoke a surprise, to challenge passers-by in their everyday life. To tease them in their relationship to the world in a poetic way through a strange light, an unusual shadow, a drawing that shouldn’t be there.
ATW: Do you have an interesting anecdote to share about a place that you can refer to with a specific project?
YC: I’m thinking of the long court project Depuis la 5ème fenêtre, 3ème étage, côté Empalot (2010-2020) carried out at the Maison des associations in Toulouse (see photographic series below). The history of this project illustrates how creation feeds on both chance and setbacks. Ten years ago, I decided to document the appearance of a new district on the wasteland of the former Niel barracks in Toulouse. I felt compelled to regularly photograph from the same window the evolution of the landscape surrounding the sycamore tree that had remained in the middle of this area; but very quickly the tree was cut down to allow for archaeological excavations. After some hesitation I continued. Once the excavations were finished, the wasteland was used for several years as a place to store and sort the residue from the earthworks. It was not until 7 years after the start of the project that the work was completed. The site was cleaned up. The idea then came to me to take advantage of this to create the in situ drawing l’ombre (2017), as a tribute to the lost tree (see image below). Made with lime, this drawing, more than 40m long, was visible from the window from which I took the photos. It took me a week to make it. Every morning when I arrived, I was greeted by crows looking for seeds on the wasteland, giving me the perfect illusion of being in a ploughed field in the town centre. Little by little, the vegetation reclaimed its rights; poppies and other common wild flowers begun to bloom. Then 6 months later, it was destroyed by bulldozers. Now there are 5 barred buildings constructed around a private garden.
Depuis la 5ème fenêtre, 3ème étage, côté Empalot, photographic series, Maison des associations, Toulouse, 2010-2020
ATW: Following on from this idea, has the restriction of our movements in 2020 led you to discover new spaces?
YC: On November 22nd 2020, I was invited to do a project in a space proposed in Toulouse by the Salon Reçoit.* With the second confinement, I didn’t know how to honour this invitation. I decided to take advantage of the visibility offered to me by the internet without however proposing a virtual exhibition. So I created a sound and visual piece Au son des bois (https://vimeo.com/481731271). It is a brief suggestion of what the 22nd could have been. Through the sound evocation of the place and the audio description of a work, it suggests an experimentation with another relationship to art. Nothing is really revealed and the work exists only through the mental image created by the viewer-listener. The video was broadcast live on social media on the day in question.
*Salon Reçoit is a contemporary art space in Toulouse that throughout the year has an exhibition for one evening only, on the 22nd of each month. https://tousles22.co/
ATW: You have a studio at Lieu Commun, an Artist Run Space in Toulouse – what are you currently working on there?
YC: I am developing a project that I started in October 2020, titled Needle maps, which again employs the process of mapping places where I can no longer be; this time it’s about places where I grew up as a child. The work is based on the reappropriation of photographs taken by satellite. This metamorphosis of the image through the piercing of the paper seeks as much to make visible, as to experience, the textured materiality of the inaccessible landscape.
ATW: Finally, would you like to tell us about one of your future projects?
YC: In my ephemeral works in Spanish white, such as Uchronie (2020), the question of the appearance and disappearance of the image (physical or luminous) is recurrent. I have recently noticed that once the drawings in Spanish white have been erased from the windows, they reappear due to the effects of steam, creating a sort of furtive and ghostly reminiscence of the vanished image. This gave me the idea for the performance Et des nuages, which will take place in the spring as part of the 2021 Traverse Vidéo festival in Toulouse – XXIVe Rencontres Internationales Traverse (Episode 2: 12th – 14th November 2021).
To find out more about Yvonne Calsou’s work, please visit the artist’s website: www.yvonne-calsou.com