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portrait of sculptor Aude Franjou

Aude Franjou in 2021

Non-conventional sculptures ranging from monumental forms to sinuous miniatures in which nothing is left up to chance, the works of Aude Franjou, a fibre artist and sculptor born in 1975, trained at the Ecole Supérieur d’Arts Appliqués Duperré, Paris, are inspired by botanical architecture, the tree barks rough tactility, and the ramifications of corals.

These works emerge from the physical, repeated, systematic gesture, from a technique honed over time that incorporates rural materials such as raw hemp, fibres that Franjou skilfully traps with linen yarns in shades of red, yellow, blue and white.

The reading of these vibrant and intense works unveils the passions and complex nuances of the artist’s feelings, who invites us, through shapes, colours and spaces, to resonate with the essence of an evocative and unprecedented creative universe.

After graduating in Art History, you completed your training at L'École Duperré specialising in textile art and tapestry. What aspects, techniques or characteristics of weaving are present in your work today? How and why did you come to develop your personal sculptural technique off the loom?

The use of string is the continuity between my training and my current work.

I make my sculptures using a technique called wrapping. This technique consists in wrapping a raw, coarse material with a more refined, more noble material. It is used in rope-making, in textiles…

When I left school, I had the idea of working on tree barks. I made a series of macro photos, then a cartoon [preparatory drawing used as template in tapestry] and finally created a tapestry… Needless to say that all traces of volume were lost. I lost the effect of wood grain, of hollows, in a word I lost all the texture of bark even if I was working with colour.

I then turned to monochrome tapestries and began to work in volume by means of the knot and intertwining, excrescence/outgrowth techniques, that can also be found in the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz.

After that I decided to work with plant materials, so naturally linen was the first choice.

As for the technique, I stopped weaving on the tapestry frame and laid my threads on the ground. With the tension of the wrapping, the volutes of material emerged, the volume I was looking for was there. At first, I made very small pieces, made with embroidery thread. With time I gained confidence and was able to move on to another scale.

What is the source of your inspiration?

I feel very inspired by the nature that surrounds me, the roots, the vines, but also the human skeleton, corals, algae and trees. I recently asked myself what I would miss the most if I had to move, and the answer was obvious: the forest, because I live in the heart of one, rich in its diversity of species, of smells and of landscapes that inspire me. Sometimes taiga with birch trees, or maritime pines and white sandy paths, or centuries-old oaks, or the blockfields and their incredible shapes of sandstone worked by erosion. And then there is the ocean, always in motion, to which I am so drawn, that regenerates me.

What connects all these things is the way in which nature, in its evolution, finds its substrate and grows, surprises us by its harmony, its aestheticism. Nature amazes me and questions me, because there is little or no false note in nature. The world we live in should question each of us, what do we do, and how do we treat it?

You use a reduced range of materials to create your sculptures, exclusively linen twine and hemp thread. What are the technical but above all sensory and expressive qualities that you find in them that led you to adopt them as the materials of choice for your work?

My choice is now linen. I have chosen linen as the medium for my work. Maybe this is an echo from my childhood? I used to live in the countryside when in Spring the flax fields were covered with thousands of blue, white and pink flowers, it was magnificent. There was also the ocean shore, the ropes of the boats

in the port of La Cotinière, alive, moving, wise or threatening. If your foot happens to get caught in a harmless looking roll of rope, your ankle might break but certainly not the rope! Such strength! It is moving to see the wear and tear of a rope that has been handled thousands of times by men… and quite often by women too. I use flax yarn as the “soul” of my sculptures and more or less fine string for the wrapping work. I create the shape as I sculpt the material, I live through that moment with it. My emotions, my thoughts seep into my work.

Linen is more complex a material than it seems. Think of this light stem that bends in the wind and that, once transformed, becomes uniquely strong. Flax fibre is incredibly alive, it changes with the weather. In a very hot climate, the material softens and becomes almost tender, while humidity and cold make it stiff, rough and hard to the point of damaging my hands! When this happens, I have to tame that material which rebels and does not wish to comply. Linen is definitely not passive or inert.

Very often your sculptures leave the spaces of the art gallery and to be inserted and integrated into the macroscopic space of nature. Does this feature of your work have any points of contact, in conceptual terms, with Land Art? Do your works originate and are they designed to be an integral part of the natural landscape?

It is true that for a time I have exhibited my work in natural environments. But more than nature in the general sense, it was the symbiosis of my work with the trees that interested me, especially on long time scales. Therefore, I don’t think I’m part of Land Art, which has a certain “ephemeral” quality to it, but the concept is interesting and generous. Showing art to anyone, magnifying nature is almost a form of spirituality.

For several years now, my work has been nourished by nature, but most of the time I work in the studio. My pieces are conceived as parts of an ongoing work, not as a fixed sewing pattern, but a construction that progresses over time. I spend a lot of time on it. Each piece combined with the previous one, contributes to something like a kaleidoscope. I rely hugely on my hands, and my imagination to make things tailor-made!

How have your works changed from your early works to your more recent ones? Is there a project that you cherish but have not yet been able to realize?

After a period of rather monumental sculptures, my pieces have become more and more intimate over time. I am not denying my early work, but I work today on a different scale. It’s an evolution that means a lot to me, an in-depth refocusing. I set myself only one constraint: that I keep using the technique I have developed! As in life, forms and shapes evolve. Maturity, experiences, environment, and inner life impact my research.

Having worked on very dense, closed-shaped, and very coloured pieces, I am currently working on sculptures that are the image of lightness and transparency, of pure whiteness. I am inspired by the incredible shapes of corals.

I am preparing an installation with these white sculptures, white to evoke the death of corals. It will be an installation themed on global warming. Visitors will be able to witness corals come back to life under light. For a few minutes, light will give back its colours to the skeletons of these marine animals, which are dying as we speak.

Red. Can you tell us about this series of works? What was the idea behind it and how did you develop it? What guides you in your choice of color for your sculptures?

Red was one of my phases. I have used its different shades over and over again. In the West, red is associated with energy, action and passion. For some it is also violence, blood, death. I have often had comments like that and have occasionally been offended by the very hurtful words that accompanied an installation “it looks like a gory film from the 80s”.

And then, one day in 2013 I went to Korea to show my work, but far from shocking, red, as is often the case in Asia, was associated with fortune, joy, prosperity, and long life. It is a colour that represents filiation, the family tree. Something very positive came out of it. Red was brought forward, far from being repulsive, it was celebrated! The world is vast!

When I choose a colour, I first explore it: its symbolism, its evocative power, its resistance to light, its depth, whether its shades exist in natural materials, its pigments.

This is one of the reasons why I have long been interested in natural pigments, particularly woad. This plant has been used since the dawn of time and is perhaps the oldest pigment used to dye fabrics before being dethroned by the indigo tree and today by synthetic dyes. But I have not only worked with red! Black, blue, green, yellow, white etc. Colour is linked directly to the shape I create and the work of my hands. Sometimes I may want to highlight a knot, another time it might be a hollow. Nuance of the colour reinforces the upstrokes and downstrokes, as in writing. In fact, I don’t use just one shade, but actually dozens of shades even on sculptures that look monochrome.

These days, and until May 29, the bi-personal exhibition "Fils Sculptes" Aude Franjou / Indra Milo is running. While respecting personal lines of research, is there a shared vision, suggestion or approach that connects your works and those of Indra Milo?  How did the idea for this exhibition come about?

This exhibition was born from an Argentinian friend whose workshop is often a place of music and live performance. It is an open space that explores all forms of artistic expression. Exhibiting my work there was his impulse, his “coup de cœur”. Rapidly, he introduced me to Indra who is a woodcarver. She mixes string with wood, and that’s the common ground we were able to use to create links and bridges between our two media.

Future projects?

Do you have a project in mind?

■ Maria Rosaria Roseo, Managing Editor at ARTEMORBIDA Textile Art Magasine