A message from Lisa Bateman, New York
Artistic statements and stories
Language played an important role in the work of Nicole Carstens. Quite often her work was accompanied by a statement or short text. The titles she gave her objects often have a humoristic twist or show a deeper meaning.
Statement Nicole – 31 St. Marksplace # 5, NYC 10003
“My work is about perception. I am fascinated and intrigued by the relationship between outside appearance of common objects and their socially attributed meaning. While exploring this relationship between observation – what we see and – representation – what we think it means, I discovered that a great deal of this relationship is taken for granted. It remains largely implicit.
The materials I use are the ones that are most taken for granted. By this I mean the ones that serve our daily functioning without thinking much about them, like plastic bags, paper napkins, rubber bands or teabags. By re-inscribing them in various ways, I try to corrupt this notion. I take them out of their normative contexts in order to question the assumptions we bring to them.
Analogous to this, one can question certain role-assignments in society. I am particularly interested in the social construction of femininity and the female gender role. In the work this concern is visible in the choice of materials; I use everyday objects, which bring certain associations with the ‘female’ domain, the household. This connection is reinforced by an emphasis on process, hands-on construction techniques, and an appearance of simplicity. Also, I articulate memory, and the hidden part it plays in determining our lives through its manipulation of experience into other, often gendered visual languages.
My work is concerned with the politics of representation. In revealing hierarchical structure of meaning, I hope to question that hierarchy. I investigate ways in which gender difference is established and maintained through the social attribution of everyday objects to the domain of the female. This touches on current theories on ‘gendered spaces’ (Daphne Spain, Henrietta Moore, Shirly Ardener, Nancy Spector a.o.). According to Nancy Spector, the social partitioning of space into spheres of public and private, with its regulation of all things ‘female’ to the domestic interior, deploys and perpetuates the binary oppositions inherent to sexual difference. In my work seemingly neutral objects provoke associations with the home, with traditionally female chores of activities and therefore with the female; it serves as a metaphor for human subjectivity at large.”
“All forms of life are based on large molecules made of mainly carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Plastics too. For about a century chemists in their laboratories have been discovering ways to select ‘monomers’ and join them through the use of heat, pressure and catalysts. The resultant ‘high polymers’ resemble natural polymers in some ways. Yet they also have unique properties. Some exhibit glasslike transparency, others increased resistance to heat. Almost all of them are very durable.
In my work I explore these qualities. For not only do these materials we call plastics have properties that transcend their use as substitutes for existing materials, but in many ways they can augment ‘traditional’ materials to give them a new role. In learning about plastics I take my material at face value. I take it as it comes to us, be it a baby-swimming pool or a garbage bag. By further using the human resource of metaphor I suggest new relations with (living) nature. It is the unnatural-natural relationship that is informing my research.”
Summary proposed project for Bellagio
Statement Nicole Carstens
“I select the materials I work with from daily life: napkins, teabags, pantyhose and familiar industrial items. I endeavor to render a formal presence out of the feeling of a gesture, my gesture, to convey the sense of an experience that is subjective yet socially coded and therefore recognizable. In one of my recent works, the installation ‘CIRCUMFLEX’, made exclusively out of rubber, thousands of rubber bands encircle a gallery space in one continuous line.
Although the viewer initially might get an optical association with condoms, one is left with the growing impact of just the material and the process, as an amorphous, cellular growth all around. The installation seeks to upset our habitual associations. In the piece ‘ONDERBEET’ I elevate a fancy-coloured sink up to eye-level. Through a row of candles lined up like teeth around its rim, the piece leads the viewer’s thoughts back and forth from reverence to mundane bathroom activity; our daily cleansing rituals. “GREAT DRAIN I+II’ consists of two big wall hangings made of stained paper napkins. In relief, the stains look familiar yet provoking, common yet private. I made them with used teabags. In my work I challenge our premises about consistency, authority, bipolar opposition, the unified subject, fixed meaning and autonomy. In inviting people ‘to see differences differently’, the work reveals the contradictions of my own history in terms of personal and political discourse within me.”
“In the environment I grew up in, stability was considered to be key to a healthy climate. In an apparent need for an orderly existence rules often replaced feelings. The latter were openly being scorned at as trivial, whiny or childish. Adults’ own repressed feelings came out in for the children accomplished ways. As a child sickness, a teacher’s death or problems with classmates couldn’t outdo the impact of the loss of a parent’s pencil.
Thank God we never had a ban on tea. As I’d get home from school I would await in a dove-like pose the minute of half past three. Then came the noise of the rattling water, the holding of the cup with its warm content, the permission to have a cookie with the tea and the delight of blowing in the damping air above the cup until drinkable.
All of this seemed to soften my focus on my family. They’d become more relaxed and friendly, or everybody liked tea. We children tried to stretch this moment for hours, pouring each other rounds and making thinner and thinner drafts with new boiled water on the same old leaves. The noise of the rattling water still does something to me. My fresh-filled cup I hold with two hands, letting the tea warm both. I bring the cup up to my nose real close and blow in the damping air.”
Nicole Carstens, November 1993