Chantal Michel

Genius loci

How does a body relate to space? This is a question which a sculptor may ask when working on three-dimensional sculptures that unfold their effect in space. In the mid-1990s, Chantal Michel grappled with this problem while studying sculpture at the Karlsruhe Art Academy. What she did not like was the cool, technical character of the lifeless objects created by her. She began to wonder how a body would have to be created that felt its way out into the space around it and at the same time overcame the distance to the artist. The solution she found was astonishingly simple: the body capable of fulfilling these demands could only be her own.

Since then Chantal Michel has staged herself in various spaces. Her picture series show her, for example, in a disused brewery and in a hotel. She changes her form like a chameleon: costume, gestures and mimicry blend in subtly with the threatening or contemplative surroundings. The mis-en-scène blurs the dividing line between object and subject: Chantal Michel becomes an object controlled by space – the space, by contrast, becomes the subject through the presence of the personified spirit of the place.

Do we now know why the woman lies over a tub, is hanging in the broom cupboard, standing in the corner or behind the curtain? No. Presumably there are also no completely satisfying answers. Chantal Michel’s series of pictures unsettles the viewer. They are outbreaks of the bizarre in a world in which the principle of causality reigns. They show the existence of this “other” – they do not wish nor are they able to explain it.

Biographical information

1968

born in Bern

1989–93

studied at the Schule für Gestaltung, Bern, ceramic class

1994–98

studied at the Kunstakademie Karlsruhe

2002

Performance-Förderpreis, Alexander-Clavel-Stiftung

lives and works in Thun, Switzerland