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The Strange Parade: Textile Art by Emmanuel Bathellier

The gentrification of London is a mixed blessing. As house prices soar and neighbourhoods change, often something beautiful emerges. SEEN has the good fortune to live in Nunhead, an area designated as a ‘London Village’ by Boris Johnson when he was the Mayor. So now we have a deli, beer shop, a wine bar specialising in vermouth, vintage pop ups, indie boutique and bookshop, a growing crop of restaurants and cafés and for the last month, a weekend art exhibition at ‘The Strange Parade’ a pop up space for artists, where SEEN was entranced by the most intricate knotted textile sculptures by French artist Emmanuel Bathellier.

Originally a painter, Emmanuel switched to weaving and knotting by hand, creating wall hangings, vessels, figures and objects that evoke the natural world: wasps’ nests, cocoons, and undersea creatures. SEEN was able to ask him a few questions about his process…

SEEN: Congratulations on the exhibition at The Strange Parade. Was it easy to choose the pieces that you had on display?
Emmanuel Bathellier: It has been a wonderful experience to have my work displayed at The Strange Parade, and I am immensely grateful to its owners for lending me such a great exhibition space. When choosing which of my pieces to display I focused on offering a variety of colours, shapes, and materials. This has allowed me to create a vibrant environment within the 3D space in which I can visualise the relationships that the different pieces have with one another as well as offering various perspectives on how they can be viewed.

S: Your knotted textile sculptures are incredibly intricate. Tell us something about your process – is it trance-like?
EB: I have used the technique of knotting within my work for years. Knotting is a way to combine different resources. It is a direct and minimalistic way of approaching materials. My knotting process allows me to work on form, texture, and surface. I enjoy this technique for its simplicity and radical nature. There is no armature or glue within my pieces, only an accumulation of materials. Nothing is hidden. The process allows me to reveal the quality within the material.

I started to use this technique after abandoning painting, which had been my focus when studying in ‘Les Beaux Arts’ at Lyon. During this period of my life, I would escape to the vast, picturesque countryside. How to capture the texture, the colour, of those fields? Gathering wheat and grasses directly from them allowed me to capture in one piece the colours and textures of those vast landscapes.

The repetitive pattern of knotting always poses the question of time. By doing my art, I feel in contact with an old, direct and minimal way to use natural resources, but also I feel in communication with the craft techniques used in folk art, or used in the seventies by several artists. How do we use our time? My answer to this big existential question is to dive into a repetitive, enduring type of work which takes all my concentration and attention. By doing this I am like a priest with his rosary. The same repetitive and circular movements, the object turning as I am making it. My thoughts spin and can fly away, and I lose all sense of time, but I always stay rooted in the process. It organises all my thoughts.

S: When we spoke, you were saying that you were happy to leave your objects to be found in nature, even lived in by animals. Do you ever go back and see what happened to your sculptures?
EB: I began my work quite a while ago by knotting little constructions of grass. It was a way to be peaceful and absorbed by the land at a particular moment. It was a way to embrace the landscape. I experimented a number with of different ways of knotting and weaving by using the grass around me. I made little architectures, shelters that creatures could use. During this period my action was more like a gift to nature. I never took any photographs as I wasn’t planning anything, just enjoying the moment.

S: You often use reclaimed materials in your pieces. Is this an important aspect of the work?
EB: Because I was living in a city, the access to natural resources was not as easy but my appetite to create pushed me towards other materials. The paper appearing through my letterbox seemed to have no limit; I was submerged by its quantity, so I started using them as material. I cut them up in strips that I twisted. Its former usage had disappeared. I could create a variety of shapes without using anything else but the paper. In Lyon we were living next door to a textile factory who had left-over fabric so it became the occasion to create different pieces.

I love materials in the corner, the ones that are going to be thrown away, the materials that no one sees or gives any thought to. My technique allows me to subjugate them and to restore their dignity – luxurious or poor materials, I have no restriction, but I need to find them in big quantities. For me, the material is a vital part of the meaning of the work.

S: Do you have a favourite place in London that you visit for inspiration?
EB: You are lucky in London as museums are free. Whenever I can (and for my great pleasure) I go to the Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, the British Museum

But my favourite is the Horniman Museum because of its ethnographic collection. There is a lot to discover there in terms of shapes, techniques, and materials. I love the Kachina dolls from the Hopi tribes, the baskets, and the masks. I also check out more contemporary exhibitions, which are always inspiring, allowing me to confront what I do with other possibilities.

Follow Emmauel on Instagram: @emmanuelbathellier