Just who on earth is Claire Fontaine?

Claire Fontaine, Cloud Machine Painting #1, 2010 Claire Fontaine, Cloud Machine Painting #1, 2010 - Regina Gallery
Posted: Thu Feb 3 2011

Claire Fontaine is not one, but two artists, whose mission is to restore serious ideas to contemporary art. We meet the two-headed collective as they fly between London and Moscow.

Taking its name from a French publisher of non-descript school staionery and exercise books, Claire Fontaine is an artistic partnership between James Thornhill and Fulvia Carnevale, formed in 2004. Describing themselves as 'assistants' to Claire Fontaine, they have responded to global events, politics and society through their use and misuse of powerful symbols and status objects. Claire Fontaine has exhibited bulging backpacks and burned slogans in galleries, as well as handed out 'Instructions for the Sharing of Private Property' through video tutorials and limited-edition lock picks. A week after the catastrophic bombing of Moscow airport, Claire Fontaine opened 'Fighting Gravity', a show co-existing in both the London and Moscow branches of the Regina Gallery, as a comment not just on the constant air travel of the wealthy, but on Russia's manipulation of the weather.

You describe yourselves as assistants to Claire Fontaine, but she doesn't really exist, does she?

'Claire Fontaine isn't a person but neither is she a fictitious character. She is the name of a shared space of collaboration, where everybody is an assistant and there are no bosses.'

Her first London show is called 'Fighting Gravity'. Are you fighting against a lack of intellectual engagement within the art world?

'The title doesn't refer to our own practice, but to the condition of people for whom distances are erased by their private jets, and the mistakes that they make, which cause the impoverishment of thousands of other people but don't cost them anything. The gravity that they fight against, through their way of life, also refers to the weight of their actions that take place in an amoral space.'

You've opened the same show in Moscow. What does this doppelganger exhibition mean?

'The show underlines the paradoxes of living and working between several places. Both venues have a similar neon sign that states the name of the technician that produced it and the remuneration that this person received. We have requested for the neon sign that was produced in Moscow to be sent to London and vice versa. It's a way to address the contradictions of importing and exporting.'

We are obsessed with the weather, but your exhibition reveals some startling connections between climate and the global economy. Can you explain?

'The “Cloud Machine” pictures are explicit references to [geoengineer] Stephen Salter's solutions to stop hurricanes and global warming. Others paintings are made with silver iodide - a substance sprayed in the sky by the Russian authorities to stop rain. Essentially the weather functions within the exhibition as a metaphor for the political and economic climate in which we live. Our most innocent habits have consequences for the environment, the problem is how to influence the situation in a different way. The fact that we can pollute and poison the planet with our gestures proves that we could also affect it positively by functioning in a different political and social system.'

Can you describe how the 'Money Trap' works and what it's about?

'The money trap is a safe with a hole cut from its door. This hole is large enough to let a hand in, but too narrow to let out a fist. The title “Money Trap” refers to boxes - or coconuts secured by a chain containing peanuts - that are commonly used to trap monkeys. This exhibition is not a statement on the commodification of art, however. Our main concern is the commodification of life.'

Who was Mr Stack and why have you made a video of his last words?

'Mr Stack was a 50-year-old software engineer who flew a small airplane into the IRS office building in Austin, Texas in February 2010. He posted a statement online explaining his reasons in which he criticised the limits of capitalism. We have transformed it into a projection that looks like the end titles of a movie. The suicide letter is interesting because Stack's confusion makes his final gesture understandable.'

Does art have the power to change?

'Art has the power to change when it's good and intense. But the changes that art can produce are not immediate and direct.'

'Fighting Gravity' by Claire Fontaine is at Regina Gallery until Mar 12 2011