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Joëlle Flumet and the Broken Bed

June 13, 2011
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Joëlle Flumet’s Broken Bed installation is bound to be one of the talking points of Co/Mix 2011.

Andy Mason caught up with her on her return from two-week trip to Cairo to run an art workshop there.

AM:  Your Co/Mix installation consists of an installation of objects found in retail stores. Given that Co/Mix is a show about comic art and illustration, why did you choose to make a work for the show that contains neither comic art nor illustration?

JF: At first the idea was to make an installation mixing drawings and objects, but when the idea of Broken Bed came out, I thought that as an “image” it was strong enough to stand by itself. In my work I use either drawings or sculptures, or both. To me they are on the same level. In this case I thought that to add drawings to the sculpture might confuse the viewer… I really want this sculpture to work as an “image”… to tell or at least evoke a few stories on different levels.

AM:  Your work in general seems to be based on narratives. What, in your eyes, is the narrative of the broken bed?

JF: I very often use objects as a starting point to talk about the individual and society. For this installation, I decided to work with a bed – specifically one of those quite cheap fancy-looking beds (decorated Victorian style) that you can find in many furniture stores downtown and around in Cape Town. This furniture can be bought cash or on credit, with monthly installments over two years at high interest. These stores clearly are aimed at low-income earners and sell items of lesser quality.

In Switzerland, the ‘Victorian’ style is not really common, whereas in South Africa it appears to be quite popular. I decided to use this ‘spectacular’ style as an image for an idealized dream of luxury, success and achievement.

AM: So it’s a comment about politics, economics, inequality…?

JF: In a society where the disparities between rich and poor are so stark and the lack of strong middle class quite disturbing, the installation tries to show the gap between individual aspiration and the corrupted economic game. But the bed might also stand as a symbol for a more abstract and significant meaning. Being at first an object that serves basic needs such as sleep, rest and pleasure, it evokes the idea of the origin/beginning – birth, sexuality, reproduction, intimacy, closeness and encounters with an ‘other’ – and, on the other hand, the bed might also be associated with disease, old age, loneliness… and death.

AM: Things stand for ideas, ideas become things. But it’s not that straightforward…

Actually I think that things contain signs and signs tell stories about the societies which produce and consume these things. And that’s part of my interest. I play with existing objects and manipulate them as signs that anyone can recognize/read…. For Broken Bed, I’ve carefully chosen a particular type of bed and I’ve used a jack to replace a missing foot. But the jack also lifts and shifts the whole bed… like if there was something to fix underneath.

As a viewer you have to consider these two elements (bed and jack) to make up your own story. Since I’ve made this bed, people have started to tell me stories about a certain Tokoloshe…

AM: You live and work in Geneva, the neutral zone. Does this ‘neutrality’ provide you with a vantage point from which to understand South Africa?

You know as well as me that this Swiss neutrality thing is a joke! On one hand we try to cure the evil and on the other hand we just take advantage of it. Our biggest political party is an extreme right and populist one that spoils the whole Swiss politics and, most of all, our everyday life. So, actually, being in South Africa helps me to understand our own political and social issues much better. What’s going on here actually helps me to see more clearly what we have to take care of and struggle for in Switzerland. South Africa gives me strong enlightenments to comment on global and national politics…. And, of course, I’m not neutral about that.

AM: You’ve just been from Cape to Cairo and back. Where will you go next?

Still looking for my man… so who knows?! A short hop to Zürich would be nice… I love the German accent!

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