François Réau at Fontevraud

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After taking over the choir of the Royal Abbey Church at the end of a creative residency in 2019, the visual artist François Réau completed the engraved decoration of a new bell last June, a small 3.3-tonne brass bumblebee, as part of an original project combining age-old bell art with contemporary creation.

In Fontevraud, he feels at home. Of the Royal Abbey, fiefdom and necropolis of the Plantagenets, he knows the smallest nooks and crannies, the smallest arches, and the most subtle play of light. As he leads us through the cloister gardens to the holy of holies, the choir of the Abbey Church – where the recumbent figures of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart lie, which he took over in 2019 after a four-month residency in situ– François Réau is warmly greeted by the guides and gardeners of the site. Some of them have, in fact, contributed to his major work, Mirabilia, a highly metaphorical, immersive and invasive installation made up of a bristling array of vine shoots, enhanced by a few interlacing neon lights and monumental drawings. Theatricalizing death and human destiny by enthroning the sky in a vegetal labyrinth that evokes the legendary plant associated with the Plantagenet dynasty (but also Christ’s crown of thorns and the cycle of the seasons, the passing of time, the passing of history), these drawings, stratified in graphite and lead, unfold a decor of clouds and starry maps, leading us through the meanders of the line, from here below to the hereafter.

It is this same ascent towards the celestial world that is drawn by the cloud that the artist has engraved in the hollow, right in the mold – a real technical feat – all around the bell, the decoration of which he was entrusted with as part of the reconstitution of the soundscape of the “abbey with the white stone,” “the pearl of Anjou,” mute since the revolution. A cloud swirling from shadow to light evokes the slow agony of King Richard after the siege of Châlus in 1199. The second of six bells to be created and decorated by contemporary artists, this impressive little bumblebee named Richard is on display in the abbey gardens, not far from Eleanor – the first bell of the new bell ringing system, decorated in 2019 by the Nantes-based design and plastic arts duo Barreau et Charbonnet – while awaiting its fellow belfry members.

Exhibition « À toute volée : 6 nouvelles cloches pour Fontevraud », until september 19 th
fontevraud.fr

By Stéphanie Dulout