In alchemist theory, the transformation of non-noble metals into the “philosopher’s stone,” which in turn can be used to craft gold, embodies the principle of transmutation, healing, and catharsis, as well as inner “refinement”. An alchemistic process usually commences with the so-called materia prima, which is composed of sulfur (male, red, solar, hot) and mercury (female, white, lunar, cold). These two substances (or spiritual elements of the self) then undergo calcination, a phase in which the metals are blackened and subsequently pulverized. This “death of matter” transforms them into the “white queen” and the “red king.” Both principles, the female and the male, are eventually united by fire in the alchemist’s pot. Their unity ultimately begets the philosopher’s stone, which transforms simple metals into gold — or, speaking psychologically — which epitomizes the holistic self, hermaphroditically joining the male and the female.
In Fontaine’s work, the “death of matter” becomes synonymous with the “death of the ego,” which is the act of letting go of all static conceptions of one’s self. “By means of my craftswomanship I spiritualize matter and materialize the metaphysical,” she claims. Her pottery depicts the dissolution of the ego like a psychedelic, very corporeal trip, that manifests in a variety of shapes: medieval gargoyles and demons, a screaming, child-like trans woman, mere clumps from which scales and heads emerge, mounts of skulls, the Kabbalah’s “Three Mothers,” embodied in the Hebrew letters Aleph, Mem, and Shin, which represent the three psychic forces of thinking (ש), feeling (א) and wanting (מ).
Those pieces of pottery that were inspired by the Austrian sculptor Elmar Trenkwalder, meanwhile, are somewhat reminiscent of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, but only after their mating with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and bizarre demons that appear in experimental Japanese horror movies which Fontaine loves. The objects bear a demonstratively artificial and decorative quality; they are such obvious references that they invoke a certain sense of distance. The show’s title, too, is recycled in some way: it is a broken-down spiritual slogan, as it could appear in AA, NA, or CoDA leaflets. Fontaine’s artfully embossed metal reliefs, which are inspired by fables appearing in the Zohar and the Bhagavad Gita, resemble recreations of historic artifacts; they are as much dressed up — or “in drag,” for that matter — as the spiritistic-cosmic glitter paintings from her Akasha series (2017), that evoke Hilma af Klimt or Rudolf Steiner. However, it is precisely this ambivalence from which the enormous energy of Fontaine’s work emanates: the work’s alluring surfaces do not instantly reveal their seriousness and urgency. After some contemplation, though, they turn out to not conceal anything, either — the spectators are not looking at the representation of an experience, here, but rather at the materialized experience itself.
Text: Oliver Koerner von Gustorf