PRINT March 2001


VINCENT FECTEAU is known for making small, bracingly private constructions out of foamcore and collage elements. As much as his inventions, through maquette-like scale and goofily specific found photos (of towels, toilet-paper holders), investigate the sculptural possibilities and erotic atmospherics of decor, the glue that holds Fecteau's artless-seeming oeuvre together is a quirky querying of what art is and what it does—of how and why and if art differs from craft.

The new sculptures, which he exhibited at greengrassi gallery in London last fall, enlarge the weird theater and intensify the mysterious energies of his previous work while abandoning all photographic collage material. Elegantly wrought geometries—often in papier-mâché, almost always in (and somehow about) three hues (black, tan, and white)—the pieces proffer an utterly idiosyncratic baroque: pinecone, walnut shell, dusting of “snow,” burlap fringe, and everywhere cunning but by no means erotically muted textures. In the earlier structures, Fecteau interrogated the libidinal possibilities lingering in dumb magazine clippings and foamcore representations of corners, nowhere corridors, and basements, yet the miniature scale distanced any human body. Suggesting by turns a Tony Smith (resting on film canisters?) or, just as casually, a Gene Moore—gone-goth window display for Tiffany's, the sculptures now seem haunted by bodies or parts no longer (if ever) present—articulated chambers for desire's spooky special effects.

Bruce Hainley


THINGS IN MY WORK happen over what seem like large spans of time. I had been wanting to change scale for several years, to move away from something that is read as a model to something closer to a “sculpture.” Initially, it was a very useful concept—making model-like sculptures or models of sculptures or maybe sculptures of models as a way of dealing with my idealistic view of art, its overwhelming possibilities—but I became tired of thinking of my work as a stand-in for something else. Often in the past, the scale was determined by the collage elements. The pictures I used were a certain size, and I built the pieces around them. Part of wanting to make a change in scale coincided with a desire to get rid of the collage elements.

Once I was no longer tied to collage, the field was wide open—but large sculpture was out of the question. Technically and conceptually, it's very intimidating to me. I never studied sculpture in school, and my only experience dealing with 3D visual problems was in an amazing architecture class I took as an undergrad at Wesleyan, which was probably one of the reasons I started making model-like sculptures and using foamcore. My working practice is very intuitive, and decisions are made in the process of making and taking things apart. It seems too difficult to me to work this way on a large scale. I wanted to find a size that could accommodate the range of materials I was interested in using—foamcore, paper, craft items like pinecones, Popsicle sticks, balsa wood, etc.—to make a place where all these materials with their individual scales could meet. Papier-mâché was necessary to support the larger size of the sculptures while allowing me to manipulate the surface color and texture. I could remain interested in the handmade object, experimenting with its idiosyncrasies and imperfections, approaching the idea of the handmade on both conceptual and physical levels.

Most of the material elements have been floating around in my studio for years, but it's difficult to pinpoint why something resonates for me. Much of it has to do with formal properties: color, shape, texture, and size, the excitement of the way some things relate, rhyme, or collide with others. For example, I've been interested in using half a walnut shell for a long time. Originally, I liked the way its texture was or wasn't related to this faux-crinkled paper I was obsessed with, and I kept trying to pair the two. That never amounted to a piece, so the walnuts went back into a box.

Weirdly or not, I never considered using a.whole walnut, it was always about the half—its having these very specific primary references (food, holiday) and then these secondary references (testicles). I like using things that have several layers of specificity and combining them with others to accentuate and simultaneously compromise those specifics. On this sculpture with nutshell, the papers have a specificity all their own: They describe a tastefully banal, craft sensibility, employing a tan color related to the walnut's but calling into question the papers' banality. Is the walnut a 3D manifestation of the patterned paper or the cancerous result of it? The walnut might look like a testicle or a turd, but its location on the sculpture interferes with that reading. It's a decorative element, but it's not decorating anything. It's the real in relation to the unreality of the rest of the sculpture.

I like to work on a group of pieces all at the same time, spending long periods just staring at things and trying to activate or access a feeling that somehow relates to what I'm trying to make. Usually I'm looking through magazines and listening to music, aware of the work in the room but not specifically concentrating on it. When I'm open to things but not fixed on an objective is when I'm most likely to discover a connection that helps a piece feel more resolved. There's this gay bar in San Francisco called The Detour. It's an archetypal gay bar: black walls, mirrors, chainlink fences. The one lighting effect is a kind of projector that spells out the name of the bar. If you look at the projection directly, all you see is a vertical line of red light. Only by turning your head can you see, in the corner of your eye, for a brief second, THE DETOUR. I find it strangely compelling, since you can never be sure you saw it. It disappears as soon as you try to see it. I've begun to think of it as a diagram for the creative process—a process that, I think, requires a substantial amount of faith: faith that materials can transcend their representational limitations and locate new meaning. For this transmutation to work, the viewer must also have faith in its possibility. That's one of the most beautiful things about art, the faith or will that can make a rubber band or a pushpin the location of all this meaning and at the same time acknowledge the limitations of its reality.