The Feathers of Emilie Moutard-Martin

Portrait of Emilie Moutard-Martin. Photo credit: R. Louiset.
Emilie Moutard-Martin writes visual and auditory stories. Her art is for the eyes through the play of light on the nuances of her feathered designs, a play that transforms one piece into a plurality. And for the ears, her work in motion evokes through its muffled ruffling. Light and movement are thus the keywords of Emilie’s work.
Moreover, they are also her points of interrogation. In her featherworking atelier, one is not struck by the visual busyness of moodboards but rather a poetic and philosophical library, posing as inspiration. The scene is set against a bare wall marked by time, a silent observer of the artisan’s gestures. From her literary life, Emilie pulls inspirations that take shape in forms and lead to fresh writing, alongside her brother (a painter and professor of French). And so, the pen and the feather chase one another in a noble dance.
Emilie Moutard-Martin’s atelier. Photo credit: R. Louiset.
Academically, Emilie first turned from ethnology to focus on psychology. Heir to a family passion for the arts, she studied the figure of the artisan for her final dissertation. Then, a professional opportunity to work directly with craftsmen and craftsmanship led her to end her studies. “I was always very attracted by the métiers d’art. I wanted to be a poet and a potter at the same time,” she remembers. Words and gestures in tandem, already.
Concurrently, Emilie apprenticed in millinery and learned embroidery. Her original encounter with featherwork was at an exhibition. “It was the samples, more than the finished pieces, that caught my attention,” she explains. The encounter was revelatory. “Before, I saw material without truly looking.” She became a student of the master Nelly Saunier, with whom she would discuss craft and theory before putting it into action. Words before actions, once again.
“A day gloomier than the night,” Charles Baudelaire
“For this quite somber piece, I worked with material contrasts between solid rooster feathers and pearl embroidery on fabric. This pearled evening illuminates the gloomy day.” Photo credit: F. Mulot.
Emilie now works with feathers though special treatments that arouse wonder, inviting the eye to ponder over details. Working in total sobriety, far from feathers’ historically ostentatious habitat, her work approaches textiles, sometimes even appearing solid. The handfeel in conjunction with the appearance is surprising, a dizzying experience for the senses. In synchronicity with her context, Emilie works in simple materials in a palette of blacks and whites – here, she is alluding to the idea of endotism, the conceptual inverse of exoticism as treated by George Perec in his book The Infra-Ordinary.
“My stars in the sky rustled softly,” Arthur Rimbaud
“Touching the feathers, they return me to my own mind.” Photo credit: F. Mulot.
“Everything generally begins in language,” attests the featherworker. They create an emotion that leads her to grab at once her pen and her feathers. Georges Perec shares the shelf with philosopher Gaston Bachelard and poets Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Eluard, Philippe Jaccottet, and Christian Bobin. Emilie, however, refuses the idea of outright translation: “This is more of a nourishment that I take in so as to tell my own story.” They are inspirations drawn in the ink of reveries, not to be confused with dreams – a distinction defended by Bachelard in his essay The Poetics of Reverie.
Songe d'or
“Golden dream”
“During this time, I was listening to the album Adieu Tristesse by Arthur H. I felt a part of the story of gold seekers that he tells in one of his songs. Gold leaf here attracts the gaze, highlighting reliefs.” Photo credit: E. Valdenaire.
The choice of a breastplate as the hallmark piece is also explained through the world of words. While the featherworker confesses a particular interest in this part of the body, she also revels in the polysemy of the word, opposing notions of protection and ornament. “The breastplate allows for the wearer to parer, which has the sense of ornamentation as well as warding off blows. In this same way, the feathers of a bird serve to protect as well as to produce decorative effects during war parades and courtships.”