In Gilbert Durand’s The Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary, the Imaginary, the Day and Night Worlds are fundamental in the construction of an individual reality. A reality that man needs to give a sense to the passing of time, which becomes waiting for an inevitable transience. A theoretical framework, the one analyzed, in which Coquelicot Mafille acts (Paris, 1975), of mixed nationality (Italian and French-Danish) who lives between Paris and Milan. Her works, through the technique of embroidery, declined in a contemporary key, draw a dreamy and playful universe, and an imaginary of stories and narratives, which tell through a lucid lightness and a deep awareness, a melting pot of cultures, identities, thoughts. With embroidery (with thread, painting and adhesive…), writing, together with mediums such as photographs, collages, sound and video manipulations, defines a geography of (above all) urban space that takes on a meaningful value of symbolism. The places and spaces in the city that she chooses are symbolic: places in decline, walls, bus shelters, the store windows and supports of various kinds that become a field of investigation to expose personal poetics through a refined and recognizable style.
Elena Solito: Embroidery is the characteristic of your artistic practice. Through your embroidery you tell stories and your stories originate from writing. Tell us.
Coquelicot Mafille: For me, even before visual art there was writing in the form of poetry, prose in diaries and travel reports. My relationship with the world unfolded for a long time through observation and the written word. In 2010, starting to embroider was based on the same gestures and meditation as handwriting. What I used to tell with phrases turned into embroidered drawing. The choice of embroidery was natural because on the one hand I was familiar with the tools and fabrics because of my mother, a designer and dressmaker, and on the other hand it was intertwined with the temporality of writing, with that particular creative mood. With time, I declined embroidery on other supports, surfaces and with different means. In embroidery there is narrative, we are in time, in memory, in an ancient ritual. It is an instrument of mental peregrination, a palette to draw on and from which to move with thought and connect to previous worlds. The needle and thread, a precise painted line or an adhesive line lead the spirit to translate its intimate language.
E.S. Looking at your work, I thought of Slowness by Milan Kundera. Reading is an action that involves slowness and attention, but also embroidery. In an association of ideas we find these elements in Lectures. Tell us about the project.
C.M. There is a phrase in that book that says that when things happen too quickly, nobody is sure of anything anymore, not even of themselves. The feeling of the acceleration of time together with an overwhelming flow of information leads to bewilderment. It is certainly a human perception, a product of the mind. Nature’s time is another, it holds the rhythm of things that are formed and stabilised. There is the stratification of all essential moments. In this sense writing and reading inhabit the space and time at the centre of the eye of the cyclone. Dilated, suspended, not oscillating. Lectures, to be read in French, is an unpublished project of books and drawings, of readers, of a passion for reading that interacts with painting, drawing and photography. Taking up the pictorial tradition realized through the centuries, it proposes portraits of people of any origin and of all ages while reading or holding a book in their hands, together with the title of a book, the author, the publishing house and the date of the first publication. Lectures is based on the détournement of pre-existing paintings, personal photographs or images of unknown authors discovered on the web or in open source archives. Out of phase, heterochronic and heterotopic, the chosen titles open up to further speculative waves. Texts that are needed for an understanding of the world, where the widening of knowledge and the refinement of the critical spirit are fundamental instruments of creation and creativity, of personal and social transformation, of cultural resistance. Lectures manifests itself through unique works made either with embroidery on paper printed from original drawings or even on urban walls or shop windows. It underlines the beauty of the gesture, of the physical and mental action linked to reading. With it one questions the importance of the device, of what is written, of the time and presence that reading requires, of its eventual necessity in our days. Lectures highlights the intrinsic relationship between authors and publishing houses, the importance of collaboration between the professions around writing, books and reading and the plural dimensions on which this union opens up.
E.S. We can find your works mainly in the public space. From the formal point of view your works are delicate interventions, with thin and dotted lines, with figures and images in which color predominates. Non-invasive presences. Do you want to talk about it?
C.M. Public space is a tool for sharing messages and beauty. I am interested in the spontaneity of working in the street. I would like others’ eyes to look at it with surprise, to notice something that could go unnoticed. I ask those who pass by an effort of attention, a sharpening of perception linked not only to the space but to their own presence. The fine lines rest on the surfaces without filling them, they fit into the context as in a dialogue. My spontaneous urban drawings do not cover or try to impose themselves, they emerge slowly, leaving the stratifications visible, trying to bring out a poetic wonder.
E.S. Now I would like to consider just the technical point of view. You embroider on different surfaces (paper, canvas, wall, glass), with various materials (thread, painting and more). Which are the difficulties?
C.M. The upstream work is quite elaborate. Everywhere I go I collect images and photographs. I draw constant inspiration from what surrounds me and from my personal experience and history even when I refine my research on a specific theme. From there, I create my own preparatory drawings. From this personal archive – by enlarging, reducing, superimposing images and imagination I compose the story I want to tell whether it is painted on a canvas, on a wall, attached to glass or embroidered. The difficulty lies more in the elaboration of the sign and its meaning than in the manual realization itself which is essentially meditative. About this initial submerged work, a monographic issue has been published in the magazine Segnature conceived and edited by Paola Lenarduzzi.
E.S. Your works are a stratification of political, social and cultural messages. It seems you want to build a new phenomenal reality, expressed through a playful look.
C.M. I build from reality and learn from it, new can be the way of looking at it. Many of my works are to be read like poems, openings to pieces of life. In the movement that I carry out in my practice, resides an impossible desire, which is to tell all the stories of the world, in which people, gestures, things that in today’s hustle and bustle appear anonymous, delicate, silent yet so present and necessary. In fact, I draw attention to what is ephemeral, like an attitude in the body, an expression you have when nobody is looking, a dance step, a laugh or glimpses of an ancient palace. Just as I choose to represent the plurality of human, animal and vegetable peoples, the mixture of vitality and languages that make existence precious, magnificent and terrible. And in impressing light in details, in dwelling on empty moments, or in translating invisible dimensions, the game, as you write, is an ally of reality. Of lightness and at the same time of research and depth, like going down the rabbit hole. In the urban environment the use of colour and poetry refine the attention and bring lightness. In January 2019 I raised the issue of climate change by investing seven shop windows in a disused bank, and a few years earlier on the windows of a closed bank I presented the faces and names of pioneers of natural agriculture with an inscription saying: The Only Bank Is Earth. A few years ago under the porches of Fertilia I reflected on the action of Erdem Gündüz, the man standing in protest against the Turkish government, painting him among flying fish and Sufi dancers. In Faenza through the Ass. Sos Donna and DistrettoA, my translation on the theme of male violence against women was to affirm the overcoming of this situation, revealing the personal power and joy, the strength of a spiritual community and a continuity in female mutual support through the figure of a dancer with open arms, just as in 2018 I described in five drawings, aspects of friendship and discovery among young women for the launch of Gucci’s Acqua di Fiori perfume, drawing on a universe of escape and cheerful whispers.
E.S. The artist’s atelier is often a way to deal with a series of important questions that are conveyed through art. Tell us about this and how does the participating audience react?
C.M. I have been running ateliers for several years, mostly with children and young people and sometimes also with adults, bringing my experience and my presence. I love sharing what I know and proposing means to investigate one’s own physicality and perception. I want to bring the wisdom of doing by hand, of shifting the mental plane. Especially with embroidery, the public initially has many prejudices. Fear also, of not succeeding, of not being able. It is satisfying to see noisy and distracted teens who slowly, naturally, concentrate and find solutions in front of an unfamiliar gesture and protest when the hour ends. Last September I conducted a workshop during the Scarabocchi Festival in Novara, working with middle school students on self-knowledge, leading them first to create a collective work of painting that was then cut out so that everyone could embroider independently. Another important experience was Unprepared Hearts, a project funded by the European Union aimed at teenagers to expand the theme of sentimental education through the language of art. For this project I conceived and conducted the Embroidered Feelings atelier with the support of Muba in Milan who was also the leading partner of the project that took place in Italy, Czech Republic and Romania. Here the embroidery came at the end of a process that included the observation of images, the choice of words, and an introspective pause.
E.S. At the end of this conversation, I would like to ask you about your plans for the future? What stories would you like to tell or will you tell about this difficult era?
C.M. At this moment I am in the embryonic phase of a project concerning the ancient world. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it organizes my passion for archaeology, the vivid emotion I feel for the artifacts created by humanity that preceded us and the ambivalent relationship I have with museums and institutions. It manifests itself through painting, tracing chosen figures from antiquity, putting them in dialogue with each other and with us. The material fragility that coexists with a resistance close to eternity, the charge of meaning and rituality, the harmony in forms, materials and manufacture, make us reflect on what the contemporary is made of, on what future memory. Connecting myself to warburgian visions I create a noisy cosmopolitan and humanist sentimental atlas in which ancient presences take voice with very bright colours, becoming very young with a pop soul that transfer to us an amplified, contemplative imaginary, in which we feel the warmth and value of human relationships and skills among themselves and with the environment, a hope that I think it is important to activate at this time. It is not about nostalgia for a hypothetical golden age but about getting closer to attention and knowledge, to the desire to dive into different languages and to tap into intelligences that have been biocompatible. I will continue to work in parallel on projects already underway, such as Lectures, Désordre and Veli, which allow me to change technique, support and interpret the flow of my thoughts.