La Filature du Pont de Fer
In July, 2018 I was privileged to undertake a two week residency at a former silk factory, La Filature du Pont de Fer in Lasalle, France.
La Filature was originally part of a vast network of la sériculture (silk production) in the Cévennes. The restored studio building was where silk was uncoiled and spooled from silk cocoons but now houses several artist studios.
For this project I created a series of woven artist books as a placemaking activity. These woven book structures referenced the silk textile industry and became a metaphor for the threads connecting humans to the natural and built environment.
My artmaking method included creating an ephemeral installation of ‘field notes’ I had taken in the village. These consisted of ink drawings, monoprints, paper ephemera, visual sound lines and frottage woven into a large artist ‘book’; a way to ‘read’ the townscape of Lasalle.
The birds salute with song
An integral part of the project was to record visually and aurally the sound of life in the village and its surrounds. My field recordings of birdsong and the human environment were translated into visual sonograms and ‘woven’ into books, both big and small.
This book of field notes takes its title from the page of an old French children’s book about the seasons. Ink drawings on roughly torn cardboard became a first response to the sounds of water, birdsong and the French language I heard spoken in the streets and cafes.
Lasalle : through the windows
Everyday when I walked to the studio, I peered up at the shuttered windows of the town houses on the street. Sometimes through the windows I could catch snatches of conversation.
In response, I recorded random French conversations from my own apartment window in the centre of town, translated these into visual sound lines and wove them through the imagined windows of my mini artist books.
My high school French was not enough to hold conversations with people. While my words were limited, my hands found ways to talk as they folded a series of paper ‘chatterboxes’ from old French grammar books and telephone pages.
The chatterboxes and old books were installed for a studio exhibition on circles of kozo paper handmade from the bark fibre of local mulberry trees originally grown to feed the silk worms in the magnaneries. These circles of kozo were pricked with holes to reference the air holes in the round boxes which housed the silk moth eggs.
As part of the residency, I held a woven book workshop called Minuets. Workshop participants created mini artist books of woven visual sound in a 16 fold book structure.
The French word minuet, refers to both a courtly dance of small steps patterned on the figure 8 and a binary form of musical composition of two repeated sections of eight bars.
La montée sur bruyère (ascending onto the heather)
On the night of the exhibition, Pedro Prazeres, a choreographer from Portugal, presented a performance referencing the cycle of the silk worm from larva to making its cocoon.
When the silk worm has eaten literally thousands of mulberry leaves and is ready to spin its cocoon, it stops eating, is silent, and brings its body erect in order to begin the ascent onto branches of heather the next day and so spin its silk cocoon.
This extraordinary event called la montée sur bruyère or the climbing onto the heather, lends itself to choreography. Pedro wove a transparent web through upturned benches to the acoustic soundtrack of voices and sounds I had recorded during the residency.
Le Bombyx et La Soie (the moth and the silk)
A tribute to Bombyx morito (the silk worm) which gave life to this town, then and now.
This project was assisted by a grant from Create NSW, an agency of the New South Wales Government. The NSW Artists' Grant is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).