Before anything, Frédéric Fontenoy it’ s a family story. An exiled Jewish grandfather on one side and a collaborator grandfather on the other side, who disappeared during the fall of Berlin at the spring of 1945. A taboo and a dark side of the family, at 40 years old, Frédéric Fontenoy starts researches on this enigmatic grandfather, before realising the importance of the character, sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail, in 1947. Inspired by this doomed grandfather as much as by his readings of Geroges Bataille and the imagery of Hans Bellmer, Fontenoy shoots deliberately sexual bodies, asserted as such. Frédéric Fontenoy was born in Paris in 1963, where is he has built his studio in his apartment, a place at the image of the character. His controversial artworks are disturbing and gripping. His work depicts domestic scenes in a dark room, a set full of antiquarian objects, reminiscing of the brothels of the 30s.
In his pictures, his “character” appears as a perverse double, Fontenoy himself, transfigured in a sort of timeless individual moving in an identical set although variable, depending on the scenes, in his dark room, the room of a theatre or a mental maze. A persecutor, Fontenoy tortures his models. He ties them up, whips them, ties them up again, punishes them… The woman is an object, sometimes a piece of furniture. He plays with fetishist clichés, eroticism and the BDSM universe, ropes, high heels, horsewhip and sticks including octopus and swastika. But even as victims, the models are in ecstasy. Behind those lustful images, the finish is purely aesthetic, the style extremely refined, the black and white associated with the contrasts of the different games of shadow and light is elegant, the characters are harmonious, and the viewer is a voyeur taking part in this debauchery.
Your universe is apparently very connected to your family background ?
That world was built little by little until the day I saw it as a whole universe, built by the accumulation of my work. Then, there was a real choice to be made, the problem was to locate fiction, because it is a fiction in the beginning, between the 1930s and 1945. I started this work after a few years of research on my grandfather, this familial unsaid thing, and at first I wanted to make a movie on the character. I had many objects belonging to him: furniture, sculptures. I had all that in hand without using them. There isn’t just a collaborator’s side! My grandfather was a writer. So I made pictures of his quotations, with writing machines, I then took a picture about opium, he was an opium addict. I really like the picture with the four legs shaped like a Nazi cross in a mirror. In the diary I am holding in my hands, “The Work”, we can see my grandfather in the front page. He was holding a political conference back then. His ex-wife, my grandmother, had an affair with Hans Bellmer. For that matter, she handed me over some drawings, photos and rare books as well as portraits of herself. That is where the concept of the Bellmer swastika-shaped cross came from. This is the picture most connected to my personal story! The rest of the time, I leave a book around where he wrote a few pages. He was the first journalist, back then in Havas, to go to Moscow after the revolution. He spoke Russian fluently; he was translating Tolstoy in 1924. Then, he was expelled by the Russians as he started to become anti-Communist. He then left for China and came back to France in the 1935s to start his political pass oriented rather extreme right. He was an adventurer with multiple lives and the family didn’t want to talk about it because it was complicated. He was reduced to being a collaborator and disappeared in 45 without any death certificate. He was the skeleton the closet! He might have disappeared two days after Hitler. My father received an official letter a few years later. My grandfather was the Communication Secretary of State for Tchang Kaï-check, revolutionary before Mao, and when the latter seized power he left for Taiwan. Meanwhile, he was directing the Havas press agency for France and he was told that he couldn’t be at the same time Secretary of State for Tchang Kaï-check and publish news for France”! He was only 30 !
So he was a rather virulent collaborator ?
He built up many political parties during the collaboration. Otto Abetz, the ambassador of Germany in France, was one of his close friends and his newspapers were funded by the Germans. Having disappeared at 46 years of age, it’s as if he had many lives. And discovering his story, I said to myself that I have to go there in depth, and that is also why I am taking risks. I didn’t have that energy before discovering what he did. So there is a lot my family universe in my pictures !
- Meet Frédéric Fontenoy in Normal Magazine n°6 -