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France

Complicit Abysses

An Homage to Claude Chavent, 1947–2023 

By Switzerland
Claude Chavent, Cage
Claude Chavent, Cage, brooch, platinum and gold, photo courtesy of Viceversa

Does the absurd have a meaning? Perhaps it is a question of perspective. Claude Chavent was a formidable jeweler who mastered gold, silver, steel, and iron. He also mastered double-entendres, which he loved to play with like throwing a bottle into the sea. From his initial training, as a scientist, he kept seriousness and precision. From his professional mastery came the technical perfection and the inventiveness of the solutions he was trying to find.

Briefly trained in jewelry, it is as a self-taught person that he developed his own techniques of realization. From a clever mix of semi-industrial processes, he then finished his pieces with all the art and know-how of an extraordinary goldsmith. Thanks to his original approach, he was able to develop a very personal body of work that he let evolve with happiness toward sculpture of beautiful dimension.

Thank you, Claude, for the joy of living that you transmitted to us through your smiles and your art.

Jewelry

When we see a piece of jewelry, in gold moreover, we believe it. The material is there, present, fully present, with its value, with its meaning, with this affirmation, insolent. The two pieces presented here are in reality bas-reliefs, but can we speak of reality? The answer is yes and no. With Claude Chavent, the answer is always yes and no. Yes, the piece is there, in our fingers, but so is the illusion. The presence on one side and the image that we create mentally on the other, that is the duality of our perception. Gold and iron. The precious and immediately its antinomic. The artist, delicately iconoclastic, draws with lightness, with an assertive line.

At some point, Claude needed to go further. He decided to get rid of the volume, however shallow it was, to remove this bas-relief, which finally served only to get closer to a contradictory speech. Since it was contradictory, it was better to be honest and propose no relief at all. Yes, maybe, but the thickness of the metal is still there, I said. Of course, of course, he said, but imagine one of these pins on a piece of paper, a drawing, a picture, it becomes a simple representation. On the one hand, these pins exist in your fingers, you hold a ball, but in reality you only hold the representation of this ball. And yet you hold it in your hand. So are you holding it or not?

Well, it’s time for an aperitif, let’s go and get drunk, with reality!

Claude Chavent, (left) Light Os, (right) Golden Dragon
Claude Chavent, (left) Light Os, (right) Golden Dragon, brooches, gold, photo courtesy of Viceversa

The piece below could have been called “Denial of Reality,” but that would have been too down-to-earth. Here the illusion is masterful, because you have to know that in this jewel, no piece is at right angles. Everything is an illusion, a lark, even the color in the mirror makes the white whiter than white. And we can’t even share the point of view of the black pearl, the central actor. Our angle of view, the perspective we have, literally ejects us from the picture. Yet it is a magnificent invitation to contemplation.

Claude Chavent, Mirror of Pearls
Claude Chavent, Mirror of Pearls, object, photo courtesy of Viceversa

Sculptures

The change of scale submits the artist (the jeweler!) to a necessary repositioning, to a redefinition of his purpose. How are these pieces going to act, since it is no longer us who look at them but they who question us? A perspective which turns on itself thanks to a motorized artifact comes to disturb our spirit. To know that the sculpture is simply turning on itself while your brain is telling you to go back and forth—back and forth—inevitably provokes in you an abyss of perplexity. Claude’s humor becomes a serious thing.

Reversal of reality

A jet, a rain of nails. Water drawn with iron. What a sweet irony to imagine that rust, for once, dominates the water. And it is again by offering us a new look, a change of point of view, that the artist invites us to a fundamental questioning of our certainties.

The banal magnified

Ceci n’est pas une chaise, it is only the story of a chair that reminds you that you were sitting in it a few moments before. Unfortunately, this one only exists in your imagination, space-time having suddenly flattened out to real size. And even if you are still there (and it is, too), something has changed, the past has passed you by. And now it’s up to you to accept the beauty of the moment, the perspective that connects you to this lovely moment lived and to be lived, all made possible by the artist’s gesture that connects and transforms a moment into eternity.

Tor!

Yes, it is indeed a question of passage, of opening, in this monumental work that makes us raise our eyes toward an elsewhere. Is Tor a goalpost, or a Franco-Germanic double meaning, “Tor” becoming “tort” in French? It is a new dimension that Claude imposes on us thanks to (or because of) this door, his ultimate work.

Claude played with our perceptions, putting holes where there was nothing, putting fullness where there was nothing either. Claude was the accomplice of the abyss. The abyss took him away, Claude is still there.

Claude Chavent, Tor!
Claude Chavent, Tor!, sculpture, photo courtesy of Viceversa

Author

  • Christian Balmer

    Christian Balmer lives and works in Lausanne. He trained in jewelry and then design/jewelry at the HEAD in Geneva, and was one of Swiss jeweler Esther Brinkmann's first students. His work focuses on gold and light, to which he strives to give a de-dramatized twist by making voluminous pieces tinged with lightness. In his critical writings, he favors a free and transversal approach rather than an academic analysis. For more than 20 years, Balmer and ilona Schwippel have combined their passion for contemporary jewelry at Galerie VICEVERSA, in Lausanne, which presents an exquisite range of international artists.

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