Arcade, 87 Lever Street, London EC1V 3RA

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Caroline Achaintre: Mooner
Arcade, London
24 January - 1 March 2014
Review by Ciara Healy

Caroline Achaintre’s new carnivalesque drawings of masks playfully revive ancient Christian and occult ideas of multiple realities. Latex and wax are used to physically mask out rose-pink and pistachio-green harlequin patterns, over which inky ice-cream coloured spectres seem to float. The dual shadow faces that emerge allude to co-existence.

‘Mooner’, the artist’s new exhibition at Arcade, has a significantly quieter presence than Achaintre’s other ceramic and tufted textile work. Perhaps this is because it is the first in a series of new connected shows that will take place this year. (Achaintre is artist in residence at Camden Arts Centre, and will exhibit work at Tate Britain and Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin in 2014).

Huddled together in hushed groups of twos and threes, the characters in these drawings seem poised, full of anticipation, muscles twitching, like circus performers behind a stage curtain, waiting for a drum to roll or for lights to come up. They each convey a sense of their own certainty, even though it is not yet apparent to the viewer what it is they intend to be.

This approach is seen most viscerally in ‘Meater’ (2012), a pale yellow, hollowed-eyed Frankenstein-shaped face that gapes, open-mouthed, to reveal an unsettling cornucopia of multi-coloured metamorphic landscapes. Out of his left eye a small ghost is trying to escape. In this image it is possible to see how Achaintre draws on the amalgams, compounds and mutants once visualised by Bosch in his ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ (c. 1504). Further similarities to Bosch can be found in the inky orange eggs, and pale blue ovules spawning in ‘Frogger’ (2011) whose shifting black lines suggest that the entire world can be reformed again and again in unending flux.

Dichotomies and dualities continue in ‘Dante’ (2014), which references the Feast of Fools; a festival that was once seen to be a necessary event in the medieval Christian calendar because it permitted folly on certain days in order to ensure a greater zeal for solemnity throughout the rest of the year. In the 1400s men were seen as ‘barrels poorly put together.’ Perhaps this is why the hard edges of ‘Dante’s (2014) lime green harlequin mask seem to dissolve in certain places, creating a seeping mix of colours between foreground and background.

When reflecting on the time in which Bosch was painting, one cannot help but draw parallels to today. On the one hand his depictions of otherworlds were deeply troubling. But on the other hand they were a reminder of a time when reality could be felt and experienced through more complex layers of meaning. It is exciting therefore to see how these concepts of instability and transformation have gained recognition again in Achaintre’s work. They offer us a more sophisticated mechanism through which we can develop multi-constituency dialogues. And this, in turn, can help foster the realisation that we require a much greater permeability between worlds if we are to address the complex socio-ecological issues which now face us.

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