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Interview with Claude de Soria, Alfred Pacquement, 1982

With these new cement plaques, that are rectangular in shape, you have made a return to two-dimensional work, that might be taken for pure surface.

To me these new plaques are sculpture. And I intend them to be seen and felt as three-dimensional, three-dimensional flat pieces. One can touch the obverse, the reverse and the thickness, they are like cement slabs.

And I have made a point of calling them Plis Plats (“Flat Folds”) (which describes the MAKING) and not plaques, like my first works in cement, designed to be seen from one side only and best displayed by fixing to a wall as plaques.

Nonetheless it does seem to me that what you care about in sculpture is the skin, as much as the material, the surface as much as experiments in form.

That is correct.

And yet I also feel that form is very important here.

Surely, to the extent that for many years I was unable to make angles. I was a prisoner of disk-shames. Whereas this time, by folding back a plastic sheet, a straight line is made. If I press down on the plastic to flatten it and draw out the cement, I stop at the edge of the workbench upon which I work – and that’s another straight line.

There was a time when I wanted this new form, but it had to arise naturally, between my fingers as it were. Indeed, in 1972, I made many small flat fired-earth pieces, tending towards the rectangles (I called them Murs or “walls”). That was before I found cement.

How did you come across this material, which is not usual in sculpture?

I worked with clay from 1963 to 1973. I had also sometimes had bronzes cast, something I found most disappointing in that my sculptures were made of grey clay or white plaster, and designed to work in terms of light refracting on these materials. When I gave them to the foundry, they came back in bright gold. Then I had to choose a patina, in other words paint them. Which seemed very unnatural to me. I needed to handle my material from one end of the process to the other. I needed to be in touch with what was being settled between my fingers and not to “make decisions”. Also, all those bronze sculptures, only became bearable to me once they got covered in dust. Then they recovered their initial appearance: grey clay.

What kind of work were you making then?

After bronze, I found myself unable to pursue a career as a sculptor as I had been taught. I felt a disgust that bordered on nausea. The only thing I could bear was to take a piece of clay in my hands and press it. Then it spread into a flat surface that came to an end when I ran out of material. That was the finish. To escape this state of fear, I tried every way I could think of to find a way of enjoying my work. I like clay. So why not try cement, which is made of plain sand and water? After many pathetic attempts, one day, turning a slab of cement that had dried on a smooth surface to throw it away, I found that the underside seemed miraculously alive, animated, sensitive. There was life there. And it moved me incredibly.

I feel that you keep pursuing this notion of reverse side, underside, and wanting to know what happens behind.

I don’t pursue anything. I have no concerns of any sort. My attention is simply drawn to what has not been consciously expected. I remember that when I first started working in sculpture, when certain parts seemed insufficiently lifelike, I had only one means of bringing them to life. I would close my eyes. And then my hands, free of my gaze and my paralyzing critical sense could work freely and make corrections with complete efficiency.

Similarly, with the imprint of the underside of clay sculptures and plaques too, I could not tell in advance what the ridges and hollows resulting from my attacks on clay and from its intrinsic reactions would turn into, when coated with lithographic ink and pressed into paper.

How did you come back to working in the round with cement?

My first clay sculptures were buds that seemed to concentrate the force of life, potential bursting. The first time after making cement plaques that I tried working in the round, I searched for a mould into which to pour the cement. Nothing seemed right. The only thing that might work was a sheet of plastic into which I spilled the cement, compressing it as much as I could without predetermining its shape. In this way, without meaning or wanting to, I obtained, after an interval of ten years, an exact replica of the original clay flower-bud I had made. Then, after making a long series of plaques, I found some half-spheres in plastic. The impersonal quality of their shape and their ordinariness was attractive. I made these balls with them, by matching their rough edges.

In your stalks, there are the same very rough breaks that stand in contrast to the smooth surface.

Yes, indeed, there are many connections between Boules and Tiges (Stalks). I was looking for a new shape that had to be very straightforward, and that would implicate my person as little as possible in the making. One day, having bought several yards of plastic sheeting sold in rolls, I found myself drawn to the form and I decided to pour cement into it. Then I was very surprised to discover the sensitivity and variety of results obtained, which is what produced the series, Tiges.

You accept every chance fact that affects a piece?

Not only do I accept them but I try, by a watchful attentiveness, an availability, a “floating attention” not to miss anything new that might be thrown up by chance. Every little accident on the way offered by the material, and for which I am not responsible, will contribute to producing life. I am on the lookout for anything that happens.

Are there failures?

Yes. Dead things. My criteria is that the surface should be a living, sensitive surface.

How was the first Pli Plat (“Flat Fold”) made?

By accident. I had forgotten to put sand in the cement, so that when mixed with water it turned out too liquid. In order to stop it from collapsing I very quickly folded plastic sheeting over it, as a break. The cement spread slightly over the edge of the plastic. As soon as I saw the new form obtained, I immediately sensed the potential for development and innovation. It is almost always thus, something triggered by chance and an incentive to repeat things in the heady knowledge that the result will be different and unpredictable every time, though the theme remains the same.

Is every series made at one go?

Yes. They don’t overlap. In the case of theses current pieces, some others appeared that I called Paroi (“Wall Surface”) and which contained folds in the material. But I was interested in greater economy and the series was built around broad flat surfaces with minute ridging, so slight that they seem like shading.

What about colour?

It is important but not deliberate. It depends on the quality of cement. The first that I used, by chance, because I found a bag abandoned in the courtyard outside my studio, was a magnificent grey blue.

You do your very best to make sure you don’t go against nature, against the material.

Yes. I try as far as I can to ensure that what I do and what nature does come together and become indistinguishable, because cement, even more than clay earlier, offers huge pleasure in allowing the material to work in partnership, in feeling it work alongside me. The material becomes a living medium.

One feels that you reject direct references to reality too.

Reality yes. Nature no. Absence of reference heightens my pleasure.

Pleasure at discovering a result?

Yes, but I get most pleasure, most happiness, when I am working, when I live it without thinking about anything whatsoever and certainly not about outcome. When I am working, I feel that I am transposed into the thing I am making.