Caroline Secq by Pierre Souchaud

It would be tempting to try and put the work of Caroline Secq into the category of “Recup’ Art” or “Art brut et singulier” just as it would be tempting to see in it “a message denouncing the pollution of the seas …. Tempting as this may be this, it would really block any access to this magnificent and very personal work, a work of composition, full of intelligence, playfulness, sensitivity, inventiveness and the pleasure of putting things together, all dedicated uniquely to the sublimation of material of great sensual richness … Material, it is true to say, which is laden down with improbable fantasy after macerating and drifting around for years in the sea, yet it must be taken for its immediate plastic qualities, for its intrinsic beauty and not for all its past adventures. Indeed, it is by going beyond the real story of the objects she brings together, by finding them after a long long journey in order to produce a new story that Caroline Secq’s creation is strong, distanced, unique and carries an open, universal “message”.

Pierre Souchaud: Before being a “plastic artist” as we say, you worked in the field of language therapy, communication and spiritual psychology and you were a Creative Director for an advertising agency…. Then at the beginning of the 90s, there was this “passage to art”…Why?

Caroline Secq: As a copywriter for an advertising agency, I had always felt jealous of the illustrators and artistic directors who created visual imagery with just the stroke of a pencil or a brush. I felt I didn’t know how to do anything tangible or real. My head was full of ideas but I depended on other people to materialize them. In the end it became really frustrating. Sufficiently so to make me say “OK, that’s enough, I’m going to DO something with my hands too, I’m going to make something materialize. Why shouldn’t I?” So, I bought a box of oil pastels and I started off. I did faces like masks in solid colours and already in “pieces” on black paper. I didn’t know how to draw, and I still don’t… Those were my first affirmations of an artistic nature and, no doubt, as far as form was concerned, they foreshadowed what was to come.

PS: So you went from a sort of media coverage of communicational evanescence to the full immediate thing…. Is that right?

CS: Yes, that’s about it. But the precise time I really started to work on real pieces of matter, was when I was about thirty, just before leaving for the USA, and it was without any real aim apart from the need for some kind of existential personal search.

Guided by some sort of internal impulse, I picked up a cork, a piece of wood, a bit of string and a feather in the street in Paris. I put them together any as a child would have done to produce an assemblage for a 3rd-year kindergarten diploma …

Then I went to the USA, as I had the opportunity to go for 3 or 6 months. It was in search of adventure of course and I had no idea of what was to happen… I stayed there for 4 years.

I did lots of odd jobs there just to survive and at the same time I started my assemblages with material and objects that I picked up on the beach… But the most important “thing” to happen then, was discovering and going to the Spiritual Psychology University in Santa Monica (USM).

PS: Really! So, there is that kind of University “full of spirituality” over there? Is it a State University?

CS: It’s only in the USA that that kind of university can be found. Moreover, it was the only one of its kind, with an accredited school awarding a diploma recognized by the State. The basic concept is that we are not “human beings on earth with a soul”, but that we are in fact “souls with human experience”, so, in a way, and are in a way at school on earth . When you think about it, this simple paradigm is enough to change our perspective completely as far as our relations, our experiences and so on are concerned.

PS: All the same, can this encounter be linked in some kind of way to the spiritual dimension of the message or ideological commitment that can be felt in your work?

CS: I don’t know what each individual can feel in my work, probably a lot of what they themselves project on it. As for me, I work without any ideology, any religion and all I think about is what I’m doing.. Spirituality comes in it’s own way. It’s a kind of energy. There is something sacred in beauty and I see beauty everywhere, even where other people think it’s impossible.

PS: Louis Pons, when talking about his assemblages said: “I am the last of the animists”… don’t you feel as if you belonged to this sort of primitive religion?

CS: When considering Louis Pons’ work, I understand this completely. No animism for me though, just the wonder of childhood – picking up stones, bits and pieces, feathers, worn-out bark, the treasures of time and nature. It’s to do with childhood and children who look with wonder and amazement at the beauty and magic of what they pick up and hide carefully away in their pockets, childhood which knows nothing about and shows no interest in cultural references, money and so called reality. It is by collecting all these little things that the soul touches on the infinite part of dream and mystery.

PS: So, this material exists and has a certain raw splendour, plastic and immediate expressive qualities and a mysterious emotional charge, but then comes the work you do with it … How would you define it?

CS: I often say there are two sides to my work. First of all, there is my material which says all it has to say because of its origin and what it is made up of. It speaks for itself - nothing more needs to be said. Then there is what I do with it, my sensitivity and my intention. When I do my assemblage work, I am rather like a tightrope walker trying to find the right balance between refuse and “resurrection”. I work with what exists, what I find and how I find it. I like the constraint of the unpredictable ...

PS: How do you begin a piece of work? By respecting this unpredictable side? With a vigilant lack of attention which remains open to all possibilities? Do you have heaps of material from which you pick elements that you put together to find a connection between them, to “create a meaning”?

CS: Yes of course, I have heaps, heaps of boxes and above all a huge clutter of stuff everywhere. It is from all this clutter and from what is visible that my pieces of work come to life. My eye and my hand catch onto something that triggers everything off and leads to the haphazard search for other things which seem to go together with the first and so on and so forth. It all builds up little by little and then an idea or a global feeling sees the light of day and leads to the creation of some kind of coherent whole energy-wise… but in the end this may mean removing the first elements which started everything off … an act of cruel ungratefulness as far as they are concerned!

PS: Does the support and framework come after the assemblage?

CS: No, not any more. A few unhappy experiences where I found myself with works put together directly on the ground or on the floor have taught me a lesson once and for all. They were of course impossible to screw or to stick and couldn’t be moved.

Now I get empty wooden frames made in which I put my work together. Sometimes I find a background support on the beach and this is the origin of a piece of work which then always ends up more narrative or poetical… but my work is above all abstract. I have no desire to represent or tell a story – it’s nothing to do with “literature”.

PS: What is your relationship with the “continents” of refuse floating on the oceans?

CS: They exist somewhere far, far away. I don’t think about them. I work with what is there, within sight and within arm’s reach, in my level of reality - that’s enough for me.

My aim is not to talk about those continents, even if one day I made a piece of work called, “hint, hint”, the 8th in-continent. I am not interested in denunciation or reproach. My work speaks for itself, about itself and the world, and, above all, I really don’t want to use it to get over any militant message.

PS: So you aren’t one of those artists whose weak contents are offset by a strong social commitment.

CS: There is room for everyone. That’s not where I belong. I have nothing to do with recycling either. The very word makes my skin crawl when people use it to speak about my work. My aim is not to recreate a function, or limit waste, or save resources. What I’m interested in is showing beauty where you least expect to find it, searching for balance and harmony through that amazing, instantaneous pleasure to be got from making something out of nothing, out of refuse, out of what has been forgotten. If my assemblages made out of “bits and pieces of nothing” have anything to do with those terrifying, gigantic accumulations of floating refuse, it is because they are the exact opposite...

PS: Among all the different kinds of matter and elements you find, have you got any special favourites, any which fascinate you more than others? And if so, why?

The material I like best is bits and pieces, the leftovers, things people have forgotten all about at the bottom of drawers and in this case on the beaches!

Because for the moment, and already for more than 20 years now, my material comes almost exclusively from what I pick up on the beach. When I’m asked why, I just answer “because”. I have no idea why – I never decided to do it or thought it over, it just happened and it’s still going on. I love this material and the completely random and sometimes surrealistic side to it. I love these bits and pieces - I even feel affection for them... It’s just incredible what you can find. So much inventiveness and intelligence and so many hundreds and thousands of people were behind the existence of that tiny little thingummy lying there in my hand, this piece of the world … a world lying here before us in spare parts.

PS: Apparently your collecting follows a certain kind of ritual. Am I right in saying that?

CS: Collecting things is part and parcel of the creative process. In fact, it’s a sort of ritual. I need to go and collect things very regularly. This doesn’t mean to say that there are necessarily things waiting to be picked up as the beaches are kept really clean - “thanks to” tourism. But I go for a run along the beach and I come back with my fresh catch!

If the material is piled up too long in a box, it loses all its energy and doesn’t interest me anymore.

PS: Is there any kind of material that you still haven’t used?

CS: Yes, of course there is. I have two pieces in waiting which are exceptions. They are pieces of metal with different parts that I dug up in what must have been a rubbish dump. I’d also really like to play around with bits of thread, wool, material and things left behind at the bottom of sewing baskets, the kind you find in flea markets. One day I’ll start on that.

I also like paper collages.

But what I’ve noticed and what really pleases me is that in fact right from the beginning with my first pastels, whatever medium I use, I always do the same work – I put together bits and pieces in a constant search to highlight, to give rhythm and to forget all about and go beyond the frame.