Quand la tapisserie contemporaine trompe l’oeil

Bina Baitel – Confluentia, 2012. Tissage Atelier Françoise Vernaudon © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

Aubusson celebrates ten years of contemporary tapestry

Collaborations between La Cité internationale de la tapisserie and contemporary artists have revitalized this centuries-old craft. An exhibition in the French town revisits some of their most innovative creations.

A Teddy jacket with matching clutch, a punk bathtub, a monumental portal where words morph into a borderless universal landscape, and a rainbow pool cascading from two stools ….. that’s not tapestry, is it? The answer lies in the French town of Aubusson where this year the Cité internationale de la tapisserie celebrates a decade of contemporary projects. 10 ans de création contemporaine gathers together works created between renowned artists and the region’s ateliers. It’s a showcase for exceptional talent, pushing wall décor into the realms of architecture, fashion, sound and language and proves how the ancient craft has undergone a remarkable revival in recent times.

A history of art woven into a living museum 

Set up in 2016 to preserve and promote the region’s livelihood, La Cité replaced the former National School of Decorative Art when Aubusson tapestry was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.  As a designated centre of excellence garnered through its research, education and training programs, it boasts one of the best permanent collections of tapestry from the past 600 years.  

Since 2010, the museum and its associated partners have invited artists to take part in its calls for creation, proposing experimental designs for jury selection to be adapted by expert craftspeople in line with Aubusson’s specific basse-lisse technique.

Tapestry has been integral to the area since Flemish weavers arrived in the 14th century. A flourishing industry saw the emergence of iconic Verdures tapisseries of the 15th century, featuring botanical plants and foliage. The boom arrived in the 17th century when both Aubusson and nearby Felletin became Royal Manufacturers, making weavings of paintings by artists of the time such as Isaac Moillon and Charles Le Brun. However the French Revolution put an end to Aubusson’s fortunes and the ateliers were almost wiped out. 

Christophe Marchalot and Félicia Fortuna – Le Bain, 2012 . Tissage Atelier Catherine Bernet © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

Modernising for the 20th century

Many of the pieces in the exhibition are in a building named after Jean Lurçat, the French artist credited with reviving contemporary tapestry in the 20th century.  The artist, who trained under Victor Prouvé at the Ecole de Nancy moved to Paris in 1912, met gallery owners, collectors and dealers but also the artistic avant-garde including Matisse, Renoir and Cézanne. In 1917, Lurçat began transforming his own designs into woven form (his mother was the first to stitch his watercolours into large needlepoint canvases, a task later entrusted to his wife Marthe Hennebert). 

Working in the 1950s as a cartoonist for the Aubusson studios, Lurçat moved to streamline colour selection and simplify production of the medium. The series of biennale exhibits he organised from the early 60s in Lausanne, Switzerland in association with the Fondation Toms Pauli provided a new platform for contemporary tapestry.

In Aubusson, works by great modern painters, architects, and poets, all seduced by the exquisite tradition since the 1930s adorn the walls in La Cités Nave of Tapestries, a vast space where the museum’s permanent collection hangs. Works by Kandinsky, Arp, Braque, Dufy, Vasarely, Calder, Le Corbusier and Miró are all represented, as well as one of Picasso’s own favourites which hung in the artists residence. 

In 1962, Coventry cathedral unveiled its modernist masterpiece Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph. Designed by British artist Graham Sutherland and woven in Felletin, it was, until the 1990s the world’s largest vertical tapestry. In 1983, the Atelier Raymond Picaud chose to weave designs from Turkish-American artist Burhan Doğançay’s Ribbon Series. The practice of artist and artisan collaborating to adapt artworks into tapestry has thrived ever since.

Nicholas Buffe – Peau de licorne, 2010. Tissage Atelier Patrick Guillot © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

A unicorn, but not as we know it…

Against the historical millefleurs and white unicorns, hunting scenes and medieval Crusades, today’s inventive pieces bear new ideas from old tradition. In Nicholas Buffe’s iconoclastic Peau de Licorne, winner of the 2010 Grand Prix and woven by Atelier Patrick Guillot, the Parisian artist’s appropriation of this emblematic motif ensures continuity with Aubusson’s centuries-old practice. However, in a subversive twist of the legend, Buffe slays the immortal creature, its woven trophy ‘remains’ symbolising the regeneration of the mythical creature, reborn for a modern audience.

Each of the chosen projects reflect not only the modernity of Aubusson tapestry but the reinvention of an artform traditionally hung on the wall. Christophe Marchalot and Félicia Fortuna take the art of weaving to greater depths with a psychedelic punk bath tub. It brims with opulent attitude, a nod to tapestries as objects of the wealthy.

Marie Sirgue – Bleue (Blue), 2016. Tissage Atelier A2 © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

Bleue (Blue) is French artist Marie Sirgue’s interpretation of a builder’s tarpaulin unfolded straight from its wrapping. Made for the 2016 call for creation with Atelier A2, it’s creases, wrinkles and the play of light work ordinary plastic into extraordinary art. In the blink of an eye, this light-flecked trompe l’œil  in bold, artificial, electric blue becomes an artisanal triumph. 

A collection of seven pieces conceived by Parisian Studio Ymer&Malta and designers Sebastian Bergne, Kenza Drancourt, Benjamin Graindorge and Férreol Babin includes a Polar landscape console, a cabinet decorated with bear heads, benches in burnt or lacquered wood and steel incorporating 3D forests and views from the sky towards the Earth. Even a flock of sheep huddle within the seat of a stool. Achieving unique textures combining form and function, they challenge the skill and boundaries of Aubusson expertise to breathtaking effect.

Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone – La famille dans la joyeuse verdure, 2013. Tissage Atelier A2 © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

La famille dans la joyeuse verdure (The family in the happy greenery) is an immense celebration of diversity by Argentinian artist duo Leo Chiachio and Daniel Giannone. Influenced by Latin American indigenous imagery, it characterises the literary works of Argentinian poet Julio Cortázar or Gabriel García Márquez. Garlands, baubles and jewels adorn the foliage amongst wildlife interspersed with symbolic objects – a child’s toy bear or a crystal chandelier. Nature dominates the 3m by 5m pictorial space like a revered being, depicted in exuberant colours, forms and motifs and honours the Aubusson Verdures with its lush backdrop. The two artists are immersed in the central foreground with their pet dachshund Piolin perched upon a knee. Decorated in masks and feathers from Guarani culture, they are engulfed by nature’s grandeur. Poetic, dreamlike qualities arise from a narrative which plays with the traditional notion of Aubusson tapestry as storyteller. Collaborating with Atelier A2, Chiachio and Giannone weave a family portrait of our time, of life as a same-sex couple. Likewise, it is an impassioned reminder of the contemporary urgency to protect the planet. 

Jane Harris – Deux parterres, un reflet, 2013. Tissage Atelier Patrick Guillot © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

One of the most exquisite examples is a modest piece by British artist Jane Harris.  

Harris, whose oeuvre explores the ellipse as a recurring motif plays on reflection and symmetry. Deux parterres, un reflet (Two flowerbeds, one reflection) proposed in 2013 as a five-coloured project draws on the artist’s study of traditional Japanese and classical French gardens.

« Finding ways to translate my own painting preoccupations with form, light and surface into the techniques and processes of tapestry was an exciting voyage of discovery and a fascinating challenge. Visiting Aubusson to research the possibilities, and seeing what has been achieved, both past and present, I was amazed at how innovative, varied and challenging the approaches to tapestry are now. »

Where Harris pursues the painterly aspect of colour and form,  Matthieu Mercier’s Untitled ‘Corde pixels’ accentuates the materiality achieved through the weaving process.  At 3,2 m, it impresses in its scale but the magic happens as the viewer’s vision zooms in, turning the realistic, imposing girth of a rope fragment into a pixelated, microscopic fibre. 

A repetitive skull motif duplicates Thomas Bayrle’s ubiquitous Pop Art Op Art style and pays homage to the First World War in the epic Pieta for World War 1, and Pascal Haudressy adds movement and sound to an avian landscape. Other designs incorporate sculptural elements. Quentin Vaulot and Goliath Dyèvre won first prize in 2013 for their reimagined Aubusson Verdures. Hinting at scientific manipulation, the duo simulate the regeneration of old, faded tapestries into modern, vibrant climate-resistant reincarnations by incorporating ‘laboratory instruments’ in Limoges porcelain.

The soon-to-be-completed C’est l’Aube is an abstract calligraphic composition by French-Tunisian artist el Seed. Currently on the loom at Atelier Just’Lissières, its ceremonious tombée de métier (cutting-off) is planned this month. 

Marie-Laure Bourgeois and Vincent Bécheau – Toute personne 2, 2012 . Tissage Atelier Catherine Bernet © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green
Christine Phung – Teddy jacket, 2015. Tissage Atelier Catherine Bernet © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

10 ans de création contemporaine
Until 21 September 2020.
For further information go to www.cite-tapisserie.fr

Toute reproduction interdite
© http://www.arteez.ch 2020