Marie-Renée Otis, 
artist in residence in Paris,

Fellow of the Council of Arts and Letters of Quebec

The Eighth Week

The Buren’s Columns

In 1985, the artist Daniel Buren created his architectural piece of art Les deux plateaux (The Two Sets). The critics were acerb and harsh against this piece. It consists in numerous bicolour columns of different heights. This sculpture, presenting a very modern facture, occupies the courtyard of a 17th century building.

What a clash! What a disturbing contrast! Plus, the columns aren’t directly laid on the ground but on two slaps of concrete, increasing their volume and the heaviness effect. On the contrary, in books of art, columns usually give an impression of lightness, not in this case.

Nonetheless the critics, the Buren’s columns still stand in the Palais royal’s courtyard. The castle was Louis XIV’s home during his childhood. Later it became a highly fashionable meeting location of the Parisian worldly life. Gambling houses continued to be in operation there till 1836. The Molière’s theatre was also in this location and later the Comédie française’s theatre. Today le Ministère des affaires culturelles (the Department of Culture) occupies this building (with other departments).

For many years I wanted to visit this special work of Buren. Examining it in a book of art wasn’t sufficient. In reality, The Buren’s Columns are very accessible. To get to the Palais royal, one of the accesses passes through the columns. One can literally walk on the columns like in a path.

The ensemble has another symbolic. When you look at it from a distance, the columns represent pieces of a chess mat in the big game of the society.

Children climb on them, adults sit on them. This way, the Buren’s Columns can become a part of the citizen life. The playful aspect allows us to appreciate this work of art even if the critics were vitriolic at the beginning.

The Buren's Columns

The Centre Pompidou, the National Museum of Art

The Centre Pompidou is famous for its unusual architecture. All its ventilation pipes, plumbing and electric wires are showed outside, instead of being hidden like for other buildings. Arriving at the Centre Pompidou, at the first glance one sees the variety of colorful pipes in all shapes and sizes, on the exterior walls.

I visited many exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, but I’ll talk only about one work of art: Tutto by the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti. In 1987, Boetti designed a large tapestry that was embroidered by Afghan women, living as refugees in Pakistan, during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

Boetti asked the embroiderers to choose themselves the colors of the abstract, geometrical and figurative motifs.

The result: at first, the viewer’s attention is captured by the texture of this “painting”. Then, we realize instead of being standard paint, the canvas is cover of threads, tightly and densely embroidered!

The Centre Georges-Pompidou

Tutto,  floss on linen


Monsieur Philippe Cécile

It’s done. I’ve achieved my scheduled learning goals with the great master in embroidery Philippe Cécile. I’ve just come back from a beautiful journey in Joigny, at Mr Cécile’s workshop. This time I’ve studied the technique of “pinceauté” (something like: paint brush’n thread). This technique was largely used during the reign of Louis XVI.

On a background fabric offering shades of light, like the moiré fabric kind, you stitch with silk, gold and/or silver threads. But the first step consists in painting the fabric. In French, paint brush is translated by “pinceau”. This technique is named after this tool pinceau + té = pinceauté.

The last step is to underline the design with floss.

Next month I’ll visit again Mr Cécile. This’ll be in extra of my planned schedule. I want to enjoy every possible moment with this generous master, for whom embroidery has no more secret.

Each time Mr Cécile mentions the name of a technique or a stitch that I barely know or often do not know, I note it and by this we plan another class. I can give you a world of new words and new techniques. The vastness of Mr Cécile’s embroidery knowledge gives me vertigo.

I appreciate so much the discrete and generous advices that Mr Cécile offers me. And I’ve begun to unravel the many drawers of nails for embroidery, pins and other staples in the workshop. But I stop there. I’d never be so impudent to open the drawers containing gold threads, they are like a treasure chest directly from 1001 Arabian Nights.

I’m privileged to dine at Mr Cecile’s table. I’m always looking forward to go to Joigny. I’m a highly motivated student. And my teacher examines attentively my exercises, always encouraging me.

I’m in paradise.

My first exercise of “Pinceauté”

Pinceauté”, detail

My first creation in “Pinceauté”, La quadrature des fleurs (Squaring the Flowers)

La quadrature des fleurs, detail

Pier Branly Museum (Musée du Quai Branly), 

a melting pot of Cultures

The museum Branly is the museum of the native peoples, an encounter of aborigines from Australia, North America, South America, Africa and Asia. Every kind of art is exhibited but no main stream occidental art.

I usually visit a museum equipped with a pencil and a note book. I sketch a little design here, note down an idea for a future embroidery painting there and I record thoughts of the moment. But not this time.

I simply and indolently wanted to relax, I wanted that my instinct leads me from a hall to another and be impregnated by the atmosphere. I wanted my sight to be catch by astonishing things.

It greatly worked! I was literally shaken when I saw the dancers’ costumes for the Bolivian carnival of Oruro: La Diablada. Wow! Those costumes are embroidered from head to toe, without any censure, in an orgy of sequins, feathers, colorful threads and glittering ornaments. A wild embroidery in full color and full size. The devil himself.

In Oruro, for six days the outrageous devils take control of the city. Impressive! Let’s say my laziness was electrified by La Diablada.

Truly, is it possible to go that far with embroidery?!

                                      Embroidered costume for La Diablada, Oruro’s carnival in Bolivia

The photo research and the translation are made by Lucie Daigneault


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The Embroiderers' Association of Canada (EAC) is a national non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to have a fellowship of persons who enjoy needlework and wish to learn and share their knowledge; and thereby to work towards maintaining higher standards of design, colour and workmanship.

Our aim is to preserve traditional techniques and promote new challenges in the Art of Embroidery through education and networking.

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