The last blog post of the year is a conversation with visual artist Marilou Chagnaud.
Originally from France, Marilou graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the Ecole Supérieure d’Art d’Aix-en-Provence, followed by a Diploma of Textile Design and printing techniques in Montreal, Canada. In 2016, she moved to Canberra where she lived for five years. Marilou did her first art residencies in Australia, followed by several solo and group exhibitions, and public art commissions. In February 2022, she moved to the UK and is now based in York.
Situated within traditions of minimalism and geometric abstraction, Marilou’s practice spans printmaking, sculpture, and site-responsive installations. Her recent work pushes the boundaries of paper to explore its sculptural potential through folding, stacking, and hanging. Currently, Marilou is doing a ten-month residency at Visual Arts in Rural Communities (VARC) in Northumberland, where she is developing new material to choreograph the movement of air, exploring concepts of elusiveness, intangibility, and interconnectedness in relation with the surrounding environment.
Alongside the beautiful images of Marilou's work, this conversation has a beautiful sensitivity to it, reflective of her artistic process to create her site-specific installations. Here, Marilou gives us an insight into her current residency, as well as questioning the place of art and artists in today's uncertain climate. Read on for more...
Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?
During my current residency, I live and work at Highgreen, in the apartment and studio provided by VARC. I started the residency in September and will be there until June 2023. The estate is surrounded by open moorlands in quite a remote place with spectacular landscapes and amazing dark nights.
Having a studio space makes a great difference in my practice, allowing creative freedom and concentration. It’s a personal space in constant mutation, reflecting the development of my ideas and experimentations. I also enjoy the daily walks in the moorland. It quickly became part of my creative process, a sort of ritual to help unfold ideas and create connections with the surrounding environment.
"Through my installations I try to propose new experiences to viewers, to share a sensitivity, and new ways of perceiving our environment."
How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?
My work is mostly about responding to space through site-specific installations, whether that is a gallery space, a public space, or currently the Northumberland landscape. I need to spend time within a place to develop a dialogue, and get familiar with its architecture, dimensions, surfaces, colours… These elements will be fundamental to shape ideas for a project, to choose the right materials, and to develop graphic compositions.
In terms of mediums and techniques, I do a lot of collage, drawing and mock-ups. I often jump back and forth from analogue to digital mediums, from paper to screen. Screen printing is also a big part of my creative process, with some prints almost like sketches of what I want to achieve in three-dimension. It’s a necessary passage in my practice to connect ideas.
Do you have any rituals that help with this process of creating work?
When I start a new project, I usually buy three notebooks: one for sketches of ideas, another one for notes, and a third one for admin and organisation. This habit has become more symbolic than functional as I end up using any spare pieces of paper in the studio. I also keep most of my experimental works on paper, bad prints, photocopies or collages, and re-use them, cutting and folding, ‘recycling’ designs to create new ones.
Another ritual is to re-organise my studio when I’m done working on a project. I enjoy the ritualistic act of clearing the space for new ideas.
What are you working on at the moment?
My residency at VARC is my main focus at the moment, where my research project is exploring the movement of air. I’m currently developing new work to choreograph winds in the Northumberland region. I’m interested in finding poetic ways to reveal the substance and motion of air through a new body of sculptural works, exploring concepts of elusiveness, intangibility, and interconnectedness in relation with the surrounding environment. At this point in time, I’m experimenting with parachute silk (nylon) to make large scale textile works. This has led from my interest in kites from around the world, looking at their structures, forms and materials. This research will probably lead to a limited edition of screen-printed artist books.
What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?
For me, sense of place is about perception, connection and space, including the different ways people experience and develop a bond to a particular space, involving sensory and affective dimensions. This place could be a home, a forest or even an imaginary place. These relationships with space can be developed through different aspects, including the materiality, the aesthetics, the cultural, the ecological, the ambiance…
I think this concept is important in my work, especially with my site-specific installations, as I look to question our perception of spatiality through forms and patterns, movement and materials. For example, last January I led a participatory outdoor mural at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), in Canberra. The work was inspired by Jeffrey Smart’s paintings, exhibited at the NGA at the time. Ninety-nine participants took turns painting the design! This kind of public art project, involving communities, is a good example of how art can help create this sense of place, by fostering connections among people and the environment they live in.
"I wonder about the role of artists in the environmental crisis we are facing today. How can creativity and imagination help to raise ecological awareness? Can creative practices participate in the development of new visions for change and action?"
Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?
As a visual artist, I try through my installations to propose new experiences to viewers, to share a sensitivity, and new ways of perceiving our environment. I hope my work can trigger different types of emotions: joy, calmness, excitement, and so forth. While working with the physical environment of Northumberland, I wonder about the role of art and artists in the environmental crisis we are facing today. How can creativity and imagination help to raise ecological awareness? Can creative practices participate in the development of new visions, new scenarios for change and action?
Marilou's Book List:
Books play a great part both at home and in the studio: books on design, architecture, art, techniques, poetry, or fiction. Some of them have become references I return to over the years, playing an important role in my projects. Here are three books I brought with me to Highgreen for the residency:
1. World Receivers: Georgiana Houghton, Hilma Af Klint and Emma Kunz by Lenbachhaus Munich
2. The Spell of the Sensuous, Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram
3. Art & Ecology Now, by Andrew Brown
See more of Marilou's residency at VARC on their website www.varc.org.uk
Images 1, 2: Rob Little
Image 3, 5: Artist's Own
Image 4: 5foot