In the Studio with Mathilde Albouy.

Words by

Inês Mena Silva

In the Studio with Mathilde Albouy.

I first came across Mathilde Albouy’s work at her first solo show, Trust Me, at Galerie Derouillon in Paris. We spoke briefly then but met properly right after, at her former residency studio in Villa Belleville.

Recent graduate from ENSAD Paris and a current resident at Poush in Paris, Albouy fills her practice with complex paradoxes, both formal and conceptual, as well as with a drive to untangle and counter archetypal fixity through metaphor and poetic force.

Drawing inspiration from the worlds of sci-fi feminist literature, mainly from Ursula K. Le Guin or Donna J. Haraway, Albouy investigates the tensions between vulnerability and control, submission and play, femininity and confrontation against a background of unspoken mysticism.

Tell me a bit about yourself?

I graduated last year from Art Espace (ENSAD Paris) and moved into the studio space at Villa Belleville in the meantime. While I was studying I didn’t have as many conversations around the work as I would have liked, so moving into this space has really nourished me - especially on being a lot more intuitive about my work and process.

Mathilde Albouy, Trust Me, June 7th - October 22nd, 2023, Galerie Derouillon

One of the things that really stuck with me after we talked at the show was this sense of play that seems central to your practice?

Play is something very intuitive to me. The first time this idea materialized in my work was through a wooden table with a stained glass top, which instantly resembled a chess board. I think I must have dreamt about it. The idea of play is maybe my way of inviting people into my work, as it inherently requires a partner, be it in the form of an opponent or team.  A lot of the work titles are addressed to the viewers and I think a game is kind of the same thing. You play with someone and there’s always an innate tension and dialogue. A game is something that never really puts you in danger but there’s always some sort of prediction about the future. The first pieces on this idea were these squared ones, Combien tu veux?, a children’s game that’s supposed to give you answers, guide you somehow. In the end, all the geometrical motifs make you see that chance is pretty mathematical. I am interested in the idea of this particular game as a life maquette.

Coming from this world of play, I am interested in the idea of chance that instantly comes along with it. Your choice of materials, like wood or lead, is at odds with this idea since they pay so much attention to craft, strength and planning. How do you balance these two variables?

The shapes present in my work appear to me very naturally. The first step is to always nurture myself with images, photographs of artifacts or architecture, as well as reading fiction. There’s no specific direction after this, everything is processed subcounsciously, There’s always this urge to draw the shapes as soon as they reveal themselves in my mind and I understand it’s something I want to explore. Drawing them on the walls is key in order to face them on my own scale.Then, of course, there’s all the work in wood. It’s a material that counters chance as it doesn’t allow for much spontaneity or errors. In a way, it’s a sensual experience as you have to caress, sand it and give it time. It is as meditative as it is tiring.

There’s a clear exploration of scale from what I have seen of your work - varying from tall, self-standing sculptures to delicate metal bead chains in some of the pieces.

I think the idea of scale started with the comb sculpture series. The first one I created was massive and it became a tool for self-affirmation, changing how I saw my body and myself in space. I could also identify an underlying sense of violence, which became a main force when going further into this series - the theme of weaponized femininity. The pin sculptures are the aftermath of this experience.
Each one holds an individual presence and silent anger.

Mathilde Albouy, Trust Me, June 7th - October 22nd, 2023, Galerie Derouillon

I would say it also felt confrontational. What moved me in Trust Me was the dialogue between paradoxes embedded in the pieces: submission and power, femininity and resistance.

There’s an unspoken agitation between the different pins in Trust Me - some form of anxious waiting in their stillness. Every one of them is a step into a direction I'm following blindly, so they retain some form of movement in that sense.
This tacit exchange between seeing and being seen also falls into the basis for any game, which we were talking about earlier.

I know the idea of swamps also plays an important role in your practice. Could you take me through it?

Most of the pieces I make are derived from the world of swamps - some sort of ethereal place where there aren’t fixed meanings or space for binarity. They have a clear link with the world of dreams, fiction, mythological narratives  Besides being unable to clearly identify its horizon line, the swamp carries a violent stillness, an unstable landscape where even distinguishing between solid and liquid becomes a quest. I am allowed to be angry within the idea of the swamp and the pieces are an expression of that emotional freedom.

When I first saw your earlier works, most of the elements were human and quite malleable, like the braided hair or the wax explorations. Currently you are working mostly with wood and lead. How did the pin and comb series come about?

I think it appeared logical to me to use more rough materials because at first the hairpins were meant to act as some kind of weapons. Also it was an artifact that was supposed to speak to us and not an illustration of the body or a part of nature. It’s funny how at the end they turned out to be fully independent individuals. I feel like I will always be surprised by the paths my own work takes by itself.

Mathilde Albouy, Trust Me, June 7th - October 22nd, 2023, Galerie Derouillon

I see some new works around the studio. Could you give me some insights about them?

Unlike the pieces I have done recently, these works will leave the wall and occupy the space. Even if they still keep some of the formal qualities of the pins, they are detaching themselves from the archetypal shape and morphing into a more human form. Looking at them now, I see them as a parade amoureuse. I used to have a very illustrative approach to my work and am now allowing myself to let go of it. I want the abstract forms to take over. It means that I can work better with raw materials. The wooden process took a lot of space in the studio even though it’s something I had discovered one year before. You always work in two opposite directions, trying to dissect the work as you work on wood or metal. In a way, I was trying to hide a bit of myself behind concepts and ideas that preceded my work. Like I was saying before, large-scale drawing was always quite difficult for me, and I am currently taking up the walls of the studio with new versions.

Do you find it hard to let go of the works?

Not the works necessarily, but of the space. It’s a projection of my inner world and leaving these temporary homes is always quite hard.

Since our late June conversation, Mathilde Albouy became part of the Poush art residency program and got selected for Revelations Emerige 2023. Her practice has since developed towards a sharp deconstruction of the original comb and pin shapes, freeing themselves from their representative status. Self-affirming both in scale and space, the new sculptures on show for Artissima foretell a new direction in Albouy’s practice: aquatic explorations through glimpses of tortoise shell patterns.

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Studio Photography by Xavier Casanueva