Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Marie-Noelle Fontan: Collections Woven

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Marie Noelle Fontan: Collections Woven

The seasons dictate the content and production of French weaver Marie Noelle Fontan’s work. When the weather is fine, she harvests seedpods, grasses, leaves, and petals from the suburbs near her home in Paris. But for part of each year, she also collects materials miles away from home, in rural Guatemala, where her partner works as a filmmaker. With the onset of winter, Fontan returns to her Paris atelier and weaves her natural materials into delicate wall hangings.

Fontan’s harvest is subject to certain rules she has established. She never collects plants that are still alive. Instead she collects only what has fallen to the ground, carefully drying what she finds. And, out of respect for the natural shape of her materials, she does not trim or alter anything to create a false sense of symmetry. Instead Fontan honors nature’s repeating patterns, shapes, and textures that are never identical but are often insistently similar.

The scale of each weaving is determined simply: the amount of natural material available under Fontan’s collection rules determines the proportions of the weaving. Variety is the outcome. Giant weavings capable of covering an entire wall hang beside small delicate strip weavings. At times seeds and leaves from France find themselves woven beside materials collected in Guatemala. They create hybrid collections whose botanical names may elude the untrained eye, but which reveal–even to the untrained–contrasts in shape and texture caused by the enormous climate differences between the two regions.

Instead of a structure in its own right, weaving acts as a framework for Fontan’s fragile materials. The warp often takes long embracing leaps, like a net thrown gently to capture a treasure, before re-establishing tension with several picks of secure plain weave. The weft deflects around the shapes nature provides, tracing a gentle outline and, like a tapestry, filling in small blocks of weaving to secure the irregular contents. Seedpods and leaves often burst from the sides of weavings–thin strips with theatrical shapes that protrude left and right to cast dramatic shadows. Elsewhere the weaving becomes imperceptible, nature’s bounty obscuring warp and weft entirely.

Often the weaving that nature undertakes in vines wrapped around tree trunks or in the veins in leaves is recaptured in Fontan’s thread. Weft threads appear in place of the plant’s stem, leaving fiber veins threading through nature’s organic texture. Or, in Genet, stems loop back and forth across a thin woven strip, like branches drawing circles around the stability of the fiber trunk. When I suggest to her that these incredibly fragile works are ultimately ephemeral, she nods knowingly and, with a slight smile, points out that we are too.

FiberArts Magazine (summer 2006: 40)