In Marjolaine Bourdua's workshop - Breaking down the barriers of creation
ByAnne-Marie LaflammeonFebruary 11, 2022
Some of you know her by the magnificent silk scarf she designed with us, others had the chance to witness her sculptural work during the last exhibit of the atelier b gallery in old Montreal in 2020, during the pandemic.
I’m lucky enough to have been friends with Marjolaine Bourdua for over 25 years: it is one of my longest friendships and our shared memories make precious strata. Whenever Catherine and I are about to take a new step or are unsure of where to go, we have rich and confrontational conversations with her, because we value her opinion and want her to clarify our blind spots.
Here is an incursion in Marjolaine’s workshop, where I met with her to talk about filiation, colours and the importance of having your own workshop.
The workshop spacetime
“The workshop is not just a physical space where we can leave things undone, see them, and then see them again with a fresh eye,” Marjolaine declares when I ask her about the importance of the workshop for her. “It’s also a mental space where different ideas and sensibilities can deploy themselves, rest, get started and then be abandoned.”
A short time after becoming a mother, Marjolaine started creating again from her kitchen, working on her wax series Les écumes (sea foams), she then moved above the atelier b workshop, where we made her a space in our offices and where she started working on a series of drawings. In both cases, the available space oriented her art since she didn’t have prolonged consecutive hours or large surfaces. Once she was able to invest again in the rental of a workshop on Bellechasse Street (her workshop is now on Papineau Street since the beginning of the pandemic), she understood that sculpture lets her express herself best and that the medium requires a space to its measure. As essential as a workshop is, she is aware of the opportunity that access to a creative space represents in the context of the crisis of artists’ studios (made visible notably by the #nosateliers movement) and of the fragility of the environment that this precariousness has brought about.
As a designer and entrepreneur, letting ourselves go slow always represents a challenge, even if our work at atelier b is enriched by it. I have always surrounded myself with artists, and it is in part because the time they choose to give to their art to let it emerge inspires me to the highest point.
Marjolaine agrees: the workshop, “it’s a rhythm and a space that’s different from the rest of life. In the capitalist world in which we live, spending a long time in the workshop working on lines, drawings or objects quickly becomes something political. I am learning to better accept rhythms that are mine. There is a kind of soft resistance that lies in this act.”
The studio also allowed her to reserve a space in her life for her art practice, which she jealously guarded from the rest. “I found it so difficult to combine the experience of motherhood with my life as an artist—in addition to the bread-and-butter work in the cultural milieu, which also has its share of insecurities. That’s why I often felt the need to create a bubble around that space,” she explains.
At the beginning of the pandemic, in the strangely worrying climate that reigned, Marjolaine conceived and presented Des formes qui poussent (growing shapes), an exhibit of sculptural pieces that concluded the atelier b gallery adventure in the history packed old Montreal venue. “I consider myself very lucky for presenting the very last exhibit there,” she explains. We won’t expand on her experience here since Marjolaine signs a reflection about this in the soon-to-be published book celebrating the tenth anniversary of the shop. Nevertheless, I wanted to ask her what place this body of work has occupied in her artistic practice.
“This exhibition allowed me to concretize an artistic research, but also to anchor myself in my studio practice. It served as a refuge during the pandemic. From then on, I didn’t feel like I had reached the end of my exploration and I continued with this series. Some of the pieces were exhibited until recently at the Musée d’art de Joliette, I produced new ones too.”
The art of accurate colouring
“Colour is a way for me to work on the mood of the object, its atmosphere, its tone in the proper sense as well as figuratively. It’s an aspect on which I put a lot of care.”
It’s no secret to us: after collaborating with Marjolaine on the creation of the silk scarf, where we spied on her way of working with colour and her surprising selections, we developed a recurring question when the time comes to develop the palettes for our collections: “What Would Marjolaine choose?” At atelier b, Catherine and I often tell our team, “The harder the colours are to name, the better, because that means they are unusual colours.”
And our friend’s work carries this richness that makes it difficult to define her creations with only a few words. “There is often the ‘not quite’ in my work. The joyful fake, the old colour, but applied in a beautiful new layer: that tension interests me.” For the visual artist, her sculptures bring a certain roughness to the world: the objects she fashions are both appealing and playful, while generating friction when our attention is drawn to them.
All her hats at once
Parallel to her artistic practice, Marjolaine Bourdua is also a cultural mediator, a field in which her competencies are recognized. While those two aspects of her life—that feed each other—have always been compartmentalized, the PHI foundation approached her in 2021 for the public engagement project Incandescences, for her to join the two practices. “For me, there was an appeasing side in realizing Se joignent les mises à distances, because I got the impression of gathering all my hats within the same space, literally and figuratively.”
This decompartmentalizing movement is also reflected in her upcoming projects, where she incorporates notions bequeathed by her paternal grandmother, a craftswoman on all fronts who went against our current tendency to specialize. “I am not the same woman or the same artist because of all I learned from observing her gestures: we were very close, and she was part of my daily life. There’s a kind of legacy and manual heritage that I want to celebrate.”
I am touched by this reflection and desire to pay tribute, because I feel that Catherine and I have the same impulse to honour the transmission and filiation, inspired by our children, who guide us in all our decisions.
For Marjolaine, motherhood has made her realize the importance of cultivating her various facets with equal energy: “I need to take care of my life as an artist in order to be a fulfilled mother. The correlation is obvious. And conversely, I consider myself a better artist and a better person because of my child.”
If the beginnings of the conciliation between family and art were painful and required a watertight compartmentalization, the passing of time allows her to experiment with porosity: “Motherhood gives me greater flexibility to let my practice as an artist spill over into the rest of my life, and conversely to accept that it is contaminated by other things that I bring back with me to the studio.
This movement of pollination between the spheres of her life is materialized in particular in the introduction of plant materials which find their place in her workshop, and which will slip little by little into her art, just like the reflection on the omnipresence of the digital technologies in her production of the last months.
Like her exhibition Des formes poussent, this is a time of growth and blossoming for Marjolaine Bourdua, who has invested a great deal in recent years to enrich the soil of her imagination. ‘After spending the last few years rooting myself in my work and my posture as an artist, I feel that I must now truly infuse and inhabit my practice.’