Intimité réversible N°2, 2019. Felted human hair, sheep and horse hair, and silk (view of the feminine side), 240 x 190 x 40 cm. Installation view at Art Paris, Grande Palais, Paris, 2019. Photo: William Gaye

Hair Turns: A Conversation with Isabelle Plat

Across a four-decade-long career, Isabelle Plat has upended art genres addressing people, places, and things by (re)constructing and (re)assembling familiar materials and then inviting viewers to interact with them. She calls these works sculpture d’usage (“usable sculpture”), but metaphor runs riot as this Parisian artist channels the stuff of everyday life into art. When an inverted pair of men’s trousers morphs into a stool, the “male” becomes a “usable” object. When wisps of hair swept from a local beauty salon unfurl into a “hair garden,” viewers walk an androgynous path through male and female genitalia. What startles us most about these inventive sculptures, beyond their humorous and quirky turns, is Plat’s gentle but deliberate slide into the darker recesses of the human condition. Much like 17th-century Baroque painters who explored life’s pardonable transgressions and unpardonable sins through images of ordinary life, Plat tiptoes across fragile lines, from comfortable and familiar places into unsettlingly psychic spaces.

Joyce Beckenstein: Let’s begin with some personal history. Where did you study, and what were your first thoughts about making art?
Isabelle Plat:
I studied at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Lyon, France. At first, I wanted to study painting, but I never had any ideas for painting. Though of all my ideas were about sculpture, I was, paradoxically, mostly looking at paintings by the Russian Constructivists, Italian Futurists, Cubists, Matisse, and Marcel Duchamp. . .

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