Aude Arago is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. Her slow, hand-built sculptures are organic and gestural, made from a conscious and considered combination of materials.
The works of Paris-based sculptor Aude Arago are informed by a perfect balance of material experimentation and contemporary dance. Minimal, asymmetric and with hollowed centres, her small-scale sculptures nod to the legendary works of Barbara Hepworth and Valentine Schlegel, and combine the decorative with the functional. “I fell into craft like you fall in love,'' Aude muses from her home and studio on the outskirts of the city. “It was an organic and exciting transition, combining all of my knowledge into the process of creating an object.”
During the trials of life in lockdown, Aude decided to walk away from her 30-year career in contemporary dance, applying her artistic ambition to a sculptural practice. With her new craft, Aude takes deep-rooted rhythmical elements of improvisation and movement and imbues them into each piece. “I've danced my entire life and it’s a huge part of me. It taught me how to work with space, lines and volumes,” Aude explains. “One day, I decided to make a sculpture without any pressure, and just fell for the practise. I see each piece as a way of expressing myself in a different medium; une œuvre liée au corps,” she adds in her native French, translating directly to “a work linked to the body”.
A little unused brick basement at the bottom of her Aubervilliers home was quickly turned into a studio, giving her the space to continue experimenting with sculpture and float ideas. “At first I tried to work in the house but it was just far too messy with the clay and the lime I wanted to use –it gets everywhere!” Instead, her space is equipped with simple tools and a collection of accessible materials that are exclusively sourced from within France. “It took me some time to find the right materials to work with because it was important the origins were right,” Aude explains. “The way designers are using more and more sustainable materials gives me a lot of trust in the future.”Each gestural piece is created from layers of a paste made from lime powder and hemp, using an age-old process that looks simple but is, in fact, rather complex. Aude compresses all of the materials together into a thick sludge before beginning to mould with it, justifying the mentioned mess. “There's been a lot of building with lime and hemp in Persia, and there are similar examples in Japan that date back to the 16th century.” Aude recounts. “Lime is a natural material that is used to protect, combining it with hemp keeps you safe from fires as it doesn't burn. The Japanese would put food and precious possessions in little hemp mounds to keep them protected.”
While in paste form, Aude slowly hand-builds the material into an organic shape, referring to her notes and sketches for an air of consistency. “I try to stick to a design when I sculpt with the lime, but sometimes the pieces turn out bigger or smaller or rounder than I planned,” admits Aude, hinting at the characterful uniqueness each vessel inherits. Once sculpted, they are then left to dry naturally without the use of a kiln. The gently mottled, matte finish is inspired by the traditional Morrocan Tadelakt technique, giving each weighty vessel a softness and warmth.
Her collection for TOAST comprises four unique sculptures that sit together like a small family. Curvaceous and confident, the pieces are designed to sit on the mantelpiece or on the table, adding a warmth and beauty to each room. “The holes can be used functionally for candles, but they can be used without, becoming little works of art,” Aude explains.It becomes quite apparent as we talk that Aude is keenly aware of the footprint and sustainability of her choice of materials. “Hemp is a treasure plant that has so many possibilities,” she says of the fibre that forms the main component of each sculpture. “It doesn't need much water to grow and it grows very fast.” The lime powder is sourced from an 100-year-old family business in the Dordogne, and the remaining of the materials from the South of France.
On top of that, each piece is air-dried, using no energy in the process other than her own. As a result, the final combination of materials is breathable and captures the humidity in the air. “It’s like a living thing,” Aude says. “I really believe matter has a soul in it's own way.”
Studio photography by Suzie Howell.