Felting Cirque de Soleil’s phantasmagorical world
The attraction to make things came at an early age with anything that came within my reach whether it was boxes of fabric, baskets of ribbons, an assortment of threads and buttons, coupled with sundry items from millenary stores and second-hand clothing stalls. Put together like a puzzle these varied pieces became my favorite playthings.
I learned the basics of sewing, knitting, crocheting, and weaving from my grandmother, who was a seamstress and could make anything. An early recollection was watching how her skillful hands moved over the fabric with grace and precision. However, the best thing that happened to me was when I was eight years-old and my parents decided to send me to an arts and crafts school on Saturdays. I loved everything about that school from the instructors and all the beautiful works that was made in the textile arts course, but also liked very much the classes that taught us how to work with metal, wood, ceramics, as well as painting and jewelry design.
In high school, my interests expanded to drawing, painting, and photography, but I still made my own clothes and knitted. It wasn’t until I studied fine arts at the Minerva Art Academy in the Netherlands that I discovered how restrictive painting could be. I wanted to get more movement out of the canvases and framed pictures, so I started to sew pictures, quilting and patchwork, and combining materials, resulting in art books that I hand-bound with textiles.
I’ve held this life-long fascination with ancient crafts, folk and decorative arts that eventually led me to use them to lighten my paintings, but after I had children I gave painting up for craft work, which gave me more freedom to be with my children and with myself. This freedom ultimately led to toy making, and thanks to my eldest son’s exquisite taste and abundant ideas, it introduced me to my love affair with felting and became obsessed with the endless possibilities of all the things I could make.
My art come from a whole world inside of me. I often dream of something deep and colorful, which moves and is very mysterious. There are many corners, strange places, and holes, and I have an enormous need to express that world. It doesn’t matter how I do this as long as it moves. Creating things balances the extremes of that inner world. I’m inspired by the natural world, its sounds, feel and touch, and hence by its various textures and forms.
I like to use a particular material and technique as an expression of itself, rather than as a decoration or a vehicle for a narrative. In other words, the material has to speak, and felting allows me to that. It is very free and versatile. It allows me to express feeling in color, and the colors are the light we consciously or subconsciously crave. Therefore, for me, the focus is color and texture, plus I am drawn to organic, irregular forms.
I like my work to carry me away; to make a stream of things where one thing leads to another with one expression leading to another. It’s a road without any particular destination, but I have to travel it. That road offers and requires a lot of dreaming and experimentation. I’m particularly inspired by artists who see their world in a material, Like Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kieffer. Beuys worked with often with felt, which had a profound influence because it had saved his life after an accident as a soldier.
Once I became recognized as a felt artist, and started my own design company, Bloomfelt, I was asked to teach workshops, and that eventually led to my affiliation with Cirque de Soleil. I was asked to experiment with felting for their costume design department, and there I worked very closely with François Barbeau, known in Canada and internationally for his design work. François inspired me to combine felt with other materials to create wonderful and oftentimes outrageous concoctions.
The huge atelier at Cirque de Soleil’s headquarters in Montréal is a sea of creativity and it’s so satisfying to work there on fairly regular basis. When other designers started to take notice of my felted creations became part of the Cirque de Soleil shows. However, working at Cirque is an added impetus for continually searching and experimenting with new techniques and working with an amazing staff of artists and craftspeople, as well as having the opportunity to use their wonderful library and documentation center for ideas.
Overall, though, my painting background has served me very well. I love colors and feel confident in their use, as well as the textures and multi-dimensions that felt allows me to create like craters, ruffles, holes, spikes, cords and twists into a mysterious world. And, when I say ‘make’ or ‘create’ it feels almost like an imposition of the material. To me the fiber is not coerced, but flows from my hands. It makes me warm, gives energy, and makes me want to go on and on.
Marjolein Dallinga is currently working on designs for two upcoming Cirque de Soleil shows. For more information about Bloomfelt and to see more of her work, please visit www.bloomfelt.org.