ARTIST FRANCES BLOOMFIELD USES OLD FRENCH TEXTBOOKS AS KEY ELEMENTS IN HER BOXES AND 3D COLLAGES THAT MULL EVOCATIVELY ON DREAM WORLDS, IDEAS OF ORDER AND TWISTED DOMESTICITY. NORMAN MILLER MET HER
Art can give beauty and meaning into the humblest or most unexpected materials, and for Brighton- based creative Frances Bloomfield reclaimed French maths and engineering books are transformed into parts of stunning and covetable pieces. A graduate of Ravensbourne College of Art, Bloom eld has exhibited widely, including shows at the London Art Fair, Medici Gallery, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and Documenta in Germany – invited by the late great artist Joseph Beuys. Bloomfield also works in graphic design, in which she lectured for several years at London’s Sir John Cass School. It was chance that drew her to work with old French texts. ‘I bought this book in Amsterdam for one euro, years ago,’ explains Bloomfield, plucking a careworn volume from a shelf above her work table. ‘I just really liked it. It was something that moved around with me – and then gradually ideas began to develop out of it.’ Then she laughs, adding: ‘ there’s not much of it left now.’ While freely admitting to zero understanding of the material itself, the old book still intrigued her. ‘It’s full of diagrams, and though I’m really bad at maths, there was something around being fascinated by something I really couldn’t understand,’ she explains. ‘ Then an idea developed about order and chaos. In the book there are theorems, things that have solutions – that was the order. But what I did was to use pages quite nonsensically by cutting them up. So order becomes chaotic."
Frances uses this tension and contrast to make telling points about social pressures, particularly on women. In the box series Dialogue Domestique and Rituel Domestique, she dissects the old French texts to create edgy interiors where chairs tumble out of control and stairs spiral away into nowhere in rooms with odd perspective. She sees these boxes as subverting notions of the ideal home. ‘ at idea that there is a “proper” way of living – a fantasy of domestic bliss,’ says Bloom eld. ‘It’s a very prevalent concept in our society that makes people – mainly women – feel worse. But it’s a veneer, behind every front door there is often something else going on.’ As she explains, life in her boxes ‘goes o at tangents.’ In her Conflit Cosmique series, domestic objects – cutlery, plates – erupt amid gorgeous cut-out buildings or go sailing across vintage star charts. And in the Dreamboxes series, the order and control implied by the mathematical and engineering texts gets muddled amid eerie vistas where tiny vintage German architectural figures – beautifully detailed despite their size – look lost amid strange geometric settings. These reclaimed figures combine with a form of vintage architectural appropriation in Frances’ Other Lives, Geometry and Failing To Notice series. ‘These were actually developed as photographic prints,’ she explains. ‘I photographed a construction inspired by industrial ruins and then sold the prints. But people kept asking me how I did them, so I exhibited some of the models – in wine crates! Then I decided to move onto making 3D work.’
As the Dreamboxes name suggests, the world of the unconscious and its often unsettling juxtapositions also underpins Frances’ work – an influence strengthened by her having worked as a psychotherapist and counsellor. ‘I think it does inform my work – perhaps not directly but in the reading I’ve done, such as Freud and quite a bit of Jung. But more Melanie Klein, because she deals a lot with splits.’ Likewise, Frances’ imagery draws on classic dream motifs. ‘Oddly angled rooms, staircases that go nowhere. Entrances, exits, staircases – they’re very archetypal.’ She’s also keen to point out how important the vintage nature of her old French textbooks is. ‘They are already imbued with a history and a personality which you don’t know anything about – so it’s mysterious. It’s a very particular thing I use – and most of the pages come with handwritten notations, so the ownership of them is very present.’
‘THE BOOKS HAVE A MYSTERIOUS HISTORY AND PERSONALITY. MOST OF THE PAGES HAVE HANDWRITTEN NOTATIONS, SO THE OWNERSHIP OF THEM IS VERY PRESENT.’
Given that she’s been cutting up that first vintage textbook for some time, I ask how she goes about maintaining her supply of such niche material? She laughs, and points to a whole shelf of similar books. ‘I go to France a lot and always look for these kind of books in brocantes and now also eBay,’ she says. ‘And French bookshops are very different to English ones. They keep extraordinary collections of books.’ The Frenchness of the texts is as important to Frances as the subject matter. ‘ That adds to the mysteriousness – it’s not only diagrams but it’s in French!’ So does she have a special affinity to France itself? ‘Sorry, no French roots,’ she laughs. ‘But my partner lived in France for several years and we spend a lot of time there. A lot of the scenes I use in my work come from travelling in different parts, particularly Nantes and Marseille.’ The artist also admits to using the French language to play games with people. ‘Often I will put a single French word on the box – and people will desperately try and make sense of what the word is in relation to what they see,’ she laughs. ‘A bit Duchamp, I suppose.’ While old French text books are her core source of vintage material, Frances occasionally turns to other, equally quirky, reclaimed pieces. ‘I have used things like old nails. And then the other thing that appeared in my work for a while was old golf tees. They just became part of what I did.’ She looks reflective for a moment. ‘ There are things about my work I can tell you, and others that are “just how it is”,’ she says with refreshing lack of pretension. Rather than explain too much about intention and meaning, she prefers to allow those distinctive vintage materials to add their mysterious resonance to her dreamlike artistic vision.
» For more information visit francesbloomfield.com