Between beauty and disgust

“My work is surprising, raises questions, the fragile beauty is often associated with horror, even with disgust. Not only for the created work, but also for the violation of the integrity of the living being, for it is often necessary to be destructive in the method of research. This duality that I experience at any dissection or other research experience is part of my job. It would be an illusion to think that the final artwork remains untouched by it. And I notice that artists and scientists often dance on the same tightrope.”
With her training in psychology and art, Chantal Pollier shows the fragile, vulnerable body in its temporary presence. In this exclusive interview, she discusses her ideas and work.

Interview with Chantal Pollier conducted by

Richard Bright (Interalia Magazine) and Vasia Hatzi (MEDinART)

Chantal Pollier: A History of Thoughts

Chantal Pollier: A History of Thoughts

Question: Please tell us about your background. You have been trained in both Psychoanalysis and Sculpture. What’s the linkage between psychoanalysis and art?

Chantal Pollier: In 1907 Sigmund Freud had a vivid correspondence with Carl Gustav Jung. He wrote to him: ‘Artists are valuable colleagues and their testimony is of great worth for they generally know about more things in heaven and earth than are yet dreamt of in our philosophy.’

In essence, art is for me a way of communicating. I want my work to be seen. But what is so important and cannot be said in words that I am constantly driven to create new work, I wondered for a long time? And is what I try to communicate, actually ‘understood’ by the viewer of my art pieces? The older I get the more I am aware of the solitude every person lives in. We try to communicate, to connect, understand each other in our unique wishes, our drives, our passions. I will never be able to fully communicate mine. The non-verbal complexity of a good artwork is ambiguous, suggestive, and multi-interpretable.

For as long as I can remember, I tried to understand human behaviour, by observing how people communicate and by questioning that behaviour. Even as a small child, I asked myself questions like ‘what happens when we‘re dead? Why is it that animals don’t cry or laugh, and people do? My choice for studying psychology has its roots here. I have a Master Degree in Developmental Psychology and Psychoanalysis. I like to contemplate about what drives us, and I really like to listen to people, to try and understand what they want to tell me. I have been working as a therapist for ten years, trying to ‘listen to’ the wounds children had from being neglected, abused and abandoned. These years were very hard for me and I became ever more aware of the enormous impact a person can have on the life of another person, the fragility of the balance and how destruction can take over.

Simultaneously, I have always been drawing and sculpting in order to create things. I used to draw for hours and hours as a child, on the backside of used paper my dad brought home from work. I went to Art School, where I chose drawing and etching and from the age of 18, sculpture techniques. As soon as I held a chisel and hammer in my hands, it felt like coming home. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I never worked as a psychologist again, but still miss the work. It is very rewarding to know that what you do is meaningful, that it’s making a difference. Most of the time I don’t have that feeling as I am struggling in my studio.

Chantal Pollier Battle III ink on paper 2010

Chantal Pollier Battle III ink on paper 2010

Question: Is it possible that art and the creative process in general can bridge the conscious with the unconscious?

Chantal Pollier: Psychoanalysis has some interesting things to say about the way people communicate with each other, both conscious and unconscious. It postulates that art is one of the royal ways, next to the Royal Highway of Dreams, to go via associative ways to the deeper layers of the unconscious. Just like a dream never exists as a mere coincidence, an artwork never just ‘appears’. There is a story to tell, and that personal story can put a finger on the unconscious drives of the artist. But a psychoanalyst will never be able to tell you the meaning of a dream, as they will never be able to tell you what is behind an artwork. Psychoanalytic literature, trying to explain the artist and his work, can be stiffly boring and often reveals more about the writer himself.

My Master Degree dissertation examined why one beholder can be deeply moved by a work of art, while another remains untouched. Is communication possible between the artist’s unconscious and the spectator’s? How valuable and deep the emotions that a work of art invoke may be, they remain mostly incomprehensible to ourselves. They ‘emerge’ out of nothing and leave us wondering what just happened.

Question: At the heart of your art is the exploration of the fragile, temporal nature of the body and you have stated that you have a “deep interest in the dichotomy between beauty and disgust”. What do you mean by this?


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