Interview with Sylvie Clavel

Translation by Marina Dlacic

Thanks to Daniela Gambino for the collaboration
Ph. credits Daniela Gambino e Angelo Pitrone

Large complex works that sometimes take years to complete, through a slow, patient, painstaking exercise: art is for Sylvie Clavel a daily experience, almost a philosophy of life, light years away from the market and its mechanisms. For this French artist who has lived in Sicily for many years, the work is synonymous with creation, never with a product. And for her there is no continuity solution between living and creating.

Dance, yoga and knots: three great ‘loves’. What is the relationship between these three disciplines / arts and what role did they play and do they have in your life?

The bond between them was intertwined without my knowledge, I did not say to myself – “one day I will tie these three things together”; they are part of my life, my experience and I have lived with them. I think the engine is a desire to express oneself, to externalize myself.

The dance has formed me, it has given me the taste for movement well done, through continuous repetition. The spirit of dance inhabited me, I loved it with passion, I loved my teachers, from when I was  eight to twenty-six years old I didn’t think of anything else, I liked everything around, the life that this discipline offers, the choreography, the training, the shows, the teaching.

Yoga is a discovery that I make through my father at 13, he took me to a class. Then the choreographer Sheela Raʝ practiced it and asked us to do it for the performances. This was an excellent advice.

At the beginning, knots were a pastime activity, I liked to tie the cordage. My friend Jane gave me a book, “Macramé and creative design in knotting”, by Dona Z.Meilach, in 1975, but ten years pass before I meet and compare myself with a group of artists in Paris.

These three disciplines are installed in my unconscious, they are linked to each other and to me, between multiple dimensions, body, gut and mind. They created emotional, sentimental connections, and they harmonized without me intervening directly.

Your sculptures are born from the encounter between the rope and your fingers through direct physical contact with the medium – the rope – and with the work, without the mediation of tools and, I understand, without a preparatory project. Can you tell me where your works come from, how do they grow and develop?

My imagination visualizes a figure, caused by an object to be assembled, to be grafted, to be brought to new life. I see a mask and I go on a journey: it is as if I gave a body to what I see, knot by knot. It is a compensatory desire to do something that I can no longer do, take positions that I can no longer take after a car accident in ’79 and it prevents me from continuing to dance professionally. Like an African who meditates, sitting with his knees bent. After 1979 I become more figurative, I focus on the body.

What is the knot and what does it mean for you?

The knot is like a cell that proliferates around a shape. A repeated pattern capable of creating anything. The tension, the concentration that allows you to follow up, sets in and that must be sustained.

Gesture, form, content: how would you describe your works? 

Its like when you are improvising, but an improvisation that becomes very centered, a participation, a hand to hand with the work, which you modify and modify yourself, an attitude where you are completely inside what you are doing. I follow a wish, I cancel the time. I don’t give myself deadlines. 

Some textile sculptures are permanently in Sambuca (AG). Can you tell me about this project and this collection?

There are nine jobs done over the span of twenty-three years: it was a necessity, after 15 years of living with a Sicilian man from that place, who passed away, and I have to decide whether to stay or go. The town knows my works, developed in the workshop of the house where I lived, and suggests that I arrange them. But it wasn’t immediate.

In a certain way in Sambuca I created an artist’s residence ante litteram, I left my workshop open from 2001 to 2012, an innovative thing in a village. I requested that the works be curated, beyond my presence.

Then the administration made themselves available to invest to permanently display my works – and it was not a foregone conclusion. I therefore gave my contribution because from there an artistic itinerary was created and my works constitute one of the stages.

C’è un’opera che particolarmente ti rappresenta o dalla quale non ti separeresti?

Non ho mai venduto, amo tutte le mie opere. Sono legata, è il caso di dirlo, a ognuna di loro. Sono critica e scettica verso il mercato dell’arte. Ma meglio questo che quello delle armi. Non voglio fare moralismi. Questo attaccamento è una delle mie cifre stilistiche, è viscerale.

A quale opera stai lavorando in questo momento? Quali i progetti (o i sogni) per il futuro?

Ho intrapreso nel novembre del 2017 il “Cronos” – non a caso si chiama tempo, assorbe molta energia.

Sono partita da una maschera africana che posseggo dal 1982, ho utilizzato sette stampi di legno che provengono da una fonderia del Vermont. Li ho portati con me dopo una lunga permanenza in America.

“Cronos” riassume molte cose, molte parti della mia vita.

In questo momento mi sono presa una pausa da lui. Ho lavorato a una coppa, un’opera più piccola e maneggevole. Lo osservo come un enigma. Non so come proseguire con “Cronos”, il confronto è inevitabile.

È una necessità naturale. Io credo che bisogna sapere rinunciare alle proprie pretese di perfezione. Lasciarsi trasformare. Portare avanti determinazioni più semplici. Accettare che le cose vadano diversamente da come si voleva. Che una certa verità emergerà da sé.

“Cronos” deciderà come ripresentarsi e chi essere. Proprio come le cose importanti e grandi della vita.

Cosa sogno? Un posto dove dare casa alle mie opere create ad Agrigento. Una città piena di potenzialità sopite che potrebbe dare più spazio e cura agli artisti e alla sua dimensione culturale.