A down-to-earth chat with Emmanuelle Roule, Marseille-based designer and ceramic artist

Earth and ceramics

After training in graphic design and publishing at the Olivier de Serres school in Paris, Emmanuelle set up her creative studio in 2007 and took on a number of graphic commissions. At the same time, she joined a visual artists' collective, where she started an artistic project related to environmental issues—The Honey Bank—which she developed for over ten years. Featuring installations built and installed on city pavements, this initiative brought together humans and bees and cut across different issues and areas of expertise.

In parallel, she has been working on an experimental and research-based initiative with the material earth since 2013, exploring shape and construction.

In 2017, she co-founded the gangster workshop and collective in Paris's Bastille district with three other self-taught ceramic artists. "Being able to design and create our own space and have access to our own oven has totally changed the way we work. Each of us created a personal piece of work with an additional fifth element: a contribution from the collective with pieces designed and produced by eight hands."

Since 2019, she has been working on the Living Heritage research project, which focuses on the material earth and its possibilities; questioning our production methods and how we construct spaces, furniture and objects in a turbulent and ever-changing economic and environmental context. In particular, she has been looking at combining clay with biopolymers like natural beeswax.

Marseille

Emmanuelle has a "long-standing attachment" to the city of Marseille. She appreciates its raw, powerful character, its characteristic diversity and the landscape of rocky inlets that surround it, composed mainly of clayey limestone.

As the shores of the Mediterranean and Morocco are a big part of her Living Heritage research project, basing it in Marseille was an easy decision for Emmanuelle.
Her interest in Marseille also reflects her desire to put art, crafts and contemporary creation back in the heart of the city and reconnect with its little-known history as one of France's leading earthenware cities from the 17th century onwards.

Creating an "earth" space in Marseille city centre

Emmanuelle has set up her new studio a stone's throw from the Old Port of Marseille. It is part of a larger space she co-founded and opened in June 2021 with Stéphanie Pigaglio, who started the Clay studios in Paris.
Their shared intention was to create a flexible, multipurpose 200m2 space dedicated to clay and its uses and open to all.

Materials, resources and expertise

She also wants the Living Heritage project to offer people a contemporary interpretation of the earth materials industry. This raises the question of enamelling, which combines naturally toxic materials and rare earth whose extraction techniques can be questionable. When terracotta was first used during the Neolithic period 10,000 years ago, the pieces were mainly sealed using beeswax. Emmanuelle is working to bring back the use of beeswax as a viable waterproofing material, to offer a more sustainable alternative to classic enamelling.

As far as the colour is concerned, she is looking to source the pigments "as naturally and locally as possible", or use naturally coloured earth. "It's a long but worthwhile process, and one which I am fully committed to."

"It is urgent and essential to use products that are healthier for us and the planet, and to understand their characteristics and where they are from. We cannot separate our actions from the issue of global warming and its dramatic acceleration. We are constantly sawing off the branch we are sitting on."

Latest news

In September, Emmanuelle will exhibit her work during Paris Design Week at the Amélie, Maison d'art gallery and at the Fondation Thalie in Brussels. The "earth" space in Marseille will be officially opened in mid-September and she will take part in the Nuit Blanche nocturnal art trail in Mayenne at the invitation of Le Kiosque art centre.

Photos @charlottenavio
Styling @elissacastelbouloiret
Make-up @vanillegautier
Clothes @reuni.co

On the same topic