In the Studio | In Conversation with visual artist Domitille MARTIN

With visual artist Domitille MARTIN, linen fibre becomes a living sculpture made of movement, rooted in ancient myths and stories…

Thanks to the talent of Domitille and her partners, dancers and circus performers, linen fibre becomes hair highlighting the extraordinary connection between sky and earth, or threads woven by the hands of women destined for tragic ending…


Hello Domitille, please tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I am 30 years old, I am a visual artist specialising in large format sculpture. I like to work with materials like clay, paper or textile fibres. I am in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris with a project around linen. I partner with artists who come from performance or the circus to bring my creations to life. This year I produced a monumental paper installation with Alexis Mérat under the glass roof of Les Subsistances in Lyon. In addition, I am the creator and performer on the show Pli, which première will be in fall. 


What keeps you inspired at work day-in and day-out?

Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration to which I keep coming back. The artistic works that I discover through films, books, shows and exhibitions keep me awake and curious. I also feed my inspiration with everyday experiences, the people around me, my interactions with my work partners.

Your ability to use natural materials, combining them to create settings is what sets you apart. What draws you to earth tones and natural materials in art?

I grew up in the countryside and have been fortunate to travel a lot. Natural spaces have always fascinated and welcomed me. They are both a driving force in my work and places where I can recharge my batteries. The resulting shapes and materials are naturally found in my means of expression.

 What does a typical work day look like for you?

I have different routines depending on the project I'm working on. Most of the time I divide my time between days in the studio, in the theatre, in outdoor scouting but also days of inspiration where I go to see exhibitions and others where I will buy materials.

When I am at the workshop, the morning begins with stretching to prepare my body for the repetitive movements is going to do. I then immediately immerse my hands in the material, as a second warm-up. I'm not trying to come up with a particular shape but rather to experiment with samples. I brush linen, sculpt it with metal, organise it in space and research colours. After a lunch break, I sit down at the desk to draw, write and leaf through art books. Next, I choose to move forward on a sculpture in progress which usually takes several weeks to be completed. My friends often drop by for a drink to discuss our practices. I also try to get out of my house in order not to go around. This is the advantage and the disadvantage of having a workshop inside your house. 

Working with fibres is a big part of your work. Where did it stem from? 

I like this idea of appearing in the vegetal world. My creations are like seeds that I planted and that grow as if by magic. Sometimes I look at my different pieces going on in the studio and it really looks like they've sprouted there. Most of the time I understand what I am doing while I am doing it. It is a long, slow work with its own rate of growth, just like with plants that germinate little by little. I also practice engraving and ceramics and I find it magical that there is an element of randomness when you subject the copper plate to acid or the earth to fire. You are never sure how it will turn out, it surprises us and I find it very exciting. 

Fibre interests me because I see it as a possible link between things. It’s the art of sculpture in a way: to hold things together.

Please tell us more about your recent work “Le Centre du Motif” and how linen fibre inspired you. 

Le Centre du Motif brings together different fragments of work around linen. It is both a research on the artistic gesture with the figure of Penelope who embroiders endlessly, but also on other mythological personalities like Arachne, also condemned to weave. The latter interests me for its dexterity thanks to the multiplication of its spinner spider feet. This is why I called on a performer from the circus field whose practice is the aerial rope, thus being able to interpret Arachne suspended from a thread. Finally there is the image of Rapunzel, by the Brothers Grimm, whose immense hair connects the sky and the earth. This is a very inspiring legend since the origin of the hair is a plant: the rapunzel. And the linen that I use has precisely this ambiguity between the appearance of the hair and its plant origin.

What is your creative process for each new setting? How important is the role of the performers in the space you are about to create?  

There is a big difference between my creations in the theatre, in the black, neutral boxes and my in situ creations where the space already offers its own story. For example, my last performance, Le Centre du Motif, takes place in my studio with circus artist Nina Harper. To create the choreography, Nina starts from my research, some of my gestures and my stories to which she adds her sensitivity, and her ability as a dancer. She has a great capacity for metamorphosis, as an acrobat she can become the plant that grows, the craftsman who weaves, the spider suspended above the void.

What was the first creation as scenographer you were proud of?

The first creation I am proud of is my Grandeur Nature project with Nina Harper, where the beginnings of almost all of my subsequent projects are found. It is a working model in substance and in form that I still pursue today. We find there the idea of metamorphosis already omnipresent at the time, my love for natural materials and the dialogue between the visual arts and the performing arts through our gestures as visual artist and dancer on stage.

From where you stand, what’s changing about visual art field? Where do you hope to see it go?

I have noticed that the visual arts increasingly offer immersive installations as an experience for the public. I think that this is due to our current society which is going through great upheavals and is therefore extremely affected by monumental works that are beyond us.

I would like that the boundaries between the visual arts and the other arts to be more flexible so that it is easier to switch from one to another without necessarily being put in a box.

What do you do to unwind? 

The most effective is to have a change of scenery, to go to an unknown place where I am in a state of discovery, curiosity, absorption. It leaves room for strolling, I draw aimlessly and it's great.

What’s next for you?

Surprise ... I don't know at all. But I would like to continue working on the material in large format. Have space and time through long-term residences. And continue to explore with partners practising movement.




Interview by Florence I. J. Franks

All photographs courtesy of Domitille MARTIN, Alessandra CAROSI, Chris DAEPPEN, Benoit PIERON, Tomas AMORIM

Find more of Domitille MARTIN on Instagram and website.



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