History has painted Camille Claudin as 'Rodin's tragic lover' - a muse-turned-artist-turned-asylum patient, desperate and alone. But although her 10 year love affair with the master of French sculpture has defined her, she's increasingly recognised as an artist in her own right: the 70th anniversary of her death was marked with asignificant retrospective of her work at the Rodin Museum.
Polish artist Kamila Klamut isn't the first to bring Claudin's story to the stage. But her physical solo performance draws attention to the bodily indignities and torments she suffered after her brother committed her to an asylum. She adopts a low voice to explain his rationale, that she's bringing shame on their wealthy family's reputation. It's a frightening insight into a time when asylums were a form of social control, designed to keep people who threatened the social order out of sight - and mental health treatment within their walls was all but non-existent.
Flashes into Claudel's past reveal an unconventional, fierce woman: one who stepped out of a life of privilege to live as an artist making then-shocking nude sculptures, and who sought an abortion at a time where doing so was both dangerous, and seen as an unforgivable sin. But she was held back by a patriarchal art world: where her lover Rodin presided over a large workshop that could make over 300 bronze casts of The Kiss, her struggle to win wealthy backers meant she was restricted to cheaper materials, and her behaviour became increasingly erratic. Over 100 years on, it's impossible to interpret her true mental state. Was she too far outside of social norms to be allowed to live unchallenged? Or was she genuinely mentally ill, suffering from delusions of persecution by Rodin and the art world?
Klamut shrinks in on herself as Claudel's years in imprisonment pass, her letters ignored. She changes her from an expansive, wild artist into a petty, child-like being who quibbles over butter and greasy soup. But even in the asylum, her class buys her a kind of comfort: she is sent wine, and chocolate, and alcohol-soaked cherries.
The text of Camille is culled from Claudel's letters, meaning that the personalities of Rodin and her family are only visible from her own, increasingly desperate perspective. It is difficult to truly understand how she felt when her words are isolated from the context of the social world that lionised and destroyed her. But her physical suffering is intensely visible, as Klamut's contorted body becomes a visual representation of the oppression visited on Camille by both society, and the asylum that she was imprisoned in. (AS)
Camille was on at Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe http://festival16.summerhall.co.uk/event/camille/
Kamila Klamut’s website http://www.kamilaklamut.pl/
An overview of Camille Claudel’s life and work http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/exhibition/camille-claudel
Asylums as a form of social control, rather than sites for medical treatment http://www.academia.edu/894595/Getting_Out_of_the_Asylum_Understanding_the_Confinement_of_the_Insane_in_the_Nineteenth_Century
Rodin’s workshop, and the expense involved in being a sculptor http://festival16.summerhall.co.uk/event/camille/