A Brief Conversation with Caroline Monnet
by Jean-Philippe Deneault
Jean-Philippe Deneault: Who is Coco? Where does this nickname come from, and what does it mean?
Caroline Monnet: For as long as I can remember, my parents called me Coco. My middle name is Colette, after my late grandmother, and maybe the diminutive came from there. Years after, my friends started calling me Coco as well, and the nickname just stuck. I have never used it as a pseudonym in my work, but maybe one day if I do something totally crazy!*
You introduce yourself first as a filmmaker. What does it mean for you to be a filmmaker today? What technologies do you use, and what impact do they have on your work?
I started as a filmmaker before moving on to multidisciplinary art practices. Making films was a way for me to incorporate many art forms into one. I was drawn to writing, performing, creating sounds and images, and I felt making films would allow me to do all that in a very organic way. A filmmaker is a storyteller but also a creator of emotions, ambiances and a real look at the society we dwell in. I feel I have a responsibility as an indigenous filmmaker to create authentic content that does not necessarily have cultural specificities but that can still contribute to the world of indigenous cinema. My work in film/video remains diverse in the sense that I jump from experimental to fiction depending on the nature of the projects. I like to use 16mm a lot because of its texture and nostalgia. There is a charm to film that is hard to reproduce in high definition video. I think if I had the budget and the time, I would prefer film to video.
You appear very comfortable with being a self-taught artist.
I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but because I came from a very strict and elitist educational system, I didn’t even consider choosing fine arts at university. I studied sociology and communications, mainly because I wanted to do something that would allow me to travel the world. Now I believe it is an advantage to have come to the arts from a different discipline. It provides me with a different approach to materials, language and world views in the art world. Being self-taught does not confine me to a specific way of doing things or presenting my work. I believe it leaves me with a level of freedom and naivety that allows me to work with complete instincts. That being said, I still think it would be wonderful to go back to school, to learn from accomplished mentors and really enhance my general knowledge. We live in a world where university degrees are still important, but I also think that the most important things you can’t really learn in school.
What are your main artistic influences?
I have so many different artistic influences! In film I love Maya Deren, Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky. In visual art I’m into the works of Teresa Margolles, Olafur Eliasson, and Jeffrey Gibson.
Can you tell our readers about ITWÉ?
ITWÉ (Sébastien Aubin, Kevin Lee Burton and myself) started from a need to create strictly indigenous media arts content that would showcase a contemporary indigenous reality. We are based between Winnipeg and Montreal. All three members are indigenous, and we come from different backgrounds. Together we work in Cree, French and English. We work in sound, installation, design and video. We just had in mid-September an exhibition of our site-specific project “Manifestipi” at Axenéo7 gallery in Gatineau. The collective is a way for us to share ideas and concept and push each other to create things that we would not necessarily do in our respective practices.
What are the main issues or questions addressed by/in your work?
I am obviously interested in themes of identity, representation and modernity. I often explore tensions, the subtle lines that exist between two opposite things. I am interested in their dynamics, how they interact together, how they can coexist and need each other to thrive. I think my work deals with the past in a contemporary way. The work is often minimalist while being emotionally charged. I like to create an area of intellectual interplay between perception and memory that invites viewers to explore instability in the contemporary age. Most of my works are open to various interpretations of the psychological nature of the collective imagery and life as individual. I like to challenge the common way we perceive not only the outside world, but also our inner landscape. It’s about leaving something behind that would energize people. Our job as artists and intellectuals is to be different from the common perceptions.
*Editor’s Note: Caroline Monnet uses COCO on her website: www.carolinemonnet. ca. A term used in French to call a child or used as an invariable adjective to designate someone as nutty and slightly ridiculous.
Jean-Philippe Deneault holds an MA in philosophy and is currently completing an MA in Communications and Technology. He held different positions within various artistic and cultural organizations such as Le Mois de la Photo, Vox Centre de l’image contemporaine, la Biennale de Montréal, the Canadian War Museum, and Library and Archives Canada. A resident of Saskatoon, he currently sits on the Editorial Committee of BlackFlash Magazine.
This article was originally featured in BlackFlash Issue 33.2.