Corinne Aivazian left London for South-West France and found herself on a voyage of restoration.
Tell us a bit about yourselves, who is behind Maison Salvadore?
“My name is Corinne Aivazian, I’m an artist of Italian-Armenian origin. My work focuses on the power of natural matter and material things to articulate lesser-told stories in the digital age.
I wanted to explore this ideas in a domestic setting for some time and founded Salvadore after falling in love with the building, securing its purchase in 2016.
The space takes its name from my Italian Grandmother, it was her maiden name. She is an incredibly strong woman, who in her life has been both a model for Estée Lauder and a green grocer. When I was a child she was already in her 60s. She had a toy poodle named Toto, smoked gauloises constantly and would pinch waiter’s bottoms every time we went out – the last two still hold true.
She is a riot of contractions, just like the site, and they are both grand old dames. When I found out that the building had been constructed by a family of Italian stone masons, I couldn’t imagine giving here any other name.
I started the renovations of the space with my then-partner Gilles – a former restaurateur from Paris. We spent pretty much every day for two years working on her, with too many incredible friends and volunteers to mention. Then I spent the first half of this year working on developing the strategy and direction of the space with my dear friend Amelia Walton, who has now moved on and is beginning to create her own sanctuary. There is always someone else here helping, participating, so I tend to say ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, as it’s rare that I am at the space alone. Salvadore is undoubtedly the product of numerous collaborations and the ongoing generosity of those who come to stay and help.”
How can Maison Salvadore best be described?
“Maison Salvadore is perhaps best understood as my largest installation to date, a living sculpture that draws together my love of folk art and tradition with a genuine belief in the power hospitality to affect change.
My work of the last 10 years has focussed in the point at which the man-made and natural worlds meet, particularly through the exploration of organic materials and how they are manipulated by humans though craft, trade and industry, Maison Salvadore is essentially a functional or physical manifestation of these ideas.
It’s also a continual exploration of restoration in the largest sense, literal and metaphoric repair, of the building, oneself, local and global communities…an ongoing exercise in learning to live with and celebrate the imperfect.
In practical terms, it is sometimes a hotel, sometimes a space for exhibitions and residencies and sometimes simply my home, but it is a place where people are always making, learning and growing.”
Why did you choose this location?
“Life around the Maison Salvadore is not quite like anywhere else. Time feels not at all linear and you can taste the air as you breathe it in. It’s charming and bizarre but very sacred.
At the end of 2014, I had just turned 30. I was living in London, the city where I was born, and after making a very lucky recovery from some dramatic health problems I just knew I couldn’t stay there any more. It just was no longer sustainable financially, spiritually or emotionally for me; I needed space, peace and a more traditional way of living. I wasn’t sure how I would make it happen but I just started to commit to the act of trying.
I started my search in France’s historic ceramic capital, Limoges, and by total accident, I ended up viewing something 70 km north in the village of L’ isle Jourdain, a place that has the same simple amenities as it did 100 years ago; a baker, a grocers, a handful of cafes and less than 1500 inhabitants.
Wandering around waiting for the viewing I found myself aloft a majestic viaduct, towering over the Vienne, looking down at a place where people and the environment seemed to have reached an understanding, I felt a very deep sense of belonging.
There wasn’t immediately the right building here, but I knew this was the right setting, so I lived just a street away for a couple of years whilst I waited to find the site we now call Maison Salvadore.”
Tell us about some of your most important efforts to be an eco-friendly destination.
“I have learned that you can restore a building of this age one of two ways; quickly at great cost, or on a shoestring, slowly, collaboratively and thoughtfully. We have done the latter. It’s always cheaper and quicker to use non eco materials and processes, we try our best with in our not-for-profit status. All the wood that we have brought for the house is nearly always grown and milled in France from renewable forests, we use mainly salvaged or sustainable materials.
We believe in repairing rather than replacing, this means that all over Salvadore you will notice repairs and details that communicate the life of an object, we are keen that these should not be considered faults. Just like us, they have their own history and, anyway, there is enough stuff in the world already.
But our main focus is on restoration – buying and using things that are not new. The big communal kitchen for example is made entirely from discarded dressers and other furniture; we just adapted them, changed the handles and painted them. If you don’t included the appliances, I think the whole thing cost less than two hundred euros. I suppose this is where I try to focus the ecological message with Salvadore…that it’s an attainable, achievable reality.”
How can your residencies and programmes at the Salvadore Centre be characterised?
“I work with artist Shiraz Bayjoo on the annual programme. He is a collaborator and dearest friend, and long before Salvadore was able to receive guests we talked about trying to find a way of supporting artists, curators and writers who we felt make brave and important work, and were not always supported through the more mainstream channels.
As we know from our own practices, making work that doesn’t follow current zeitgeist is challenging for a multitude of reasons.
It’s hard to play the long game and stay true to your ideas when everyone else is doing something different. Our belief is that a bit of nourishment and hospitality goes a long way in enabling such work to continue, and so we tried to form our own form of residency, a self supporting one that we strongly believed in.
We contact people whose work we respect and offer different people different things, something on the spectrum between a more traditional residency and a holiday.
We invite them to work on something neglected or not yet formed, to use the ceramics studio or 100 sq meter attic studio space, or just recuperate and reflect in peaceful and traditional surroundings. So far this year, we have been privileged to have Priyesh Mistry, a young and exciting curator currently based at Tate and Melanie Keen, Director of London’s Pioneering INIVA. Later this year we will also be working with artist Myriam Mechita and artist/curator Yasmina Reggad.”
Do your creative projects affect the experience for guests?
“Everything is slowly becoming more integrated on site. I have just produced our first range of tableware in collaboration with our most recent volunteer to the space, Erika Symonds. All visitors to the space now eat and drink from beautiful raw pieces produced from a combination our two local clays, a ristic, rich red clay used for making roof tiles in the region, since the romans set up small factories and fine bright white earthenware from limoges.
There are artworks of mine and of friends all over the house – artists who stay often leave something behind or gift something, but I guess the real impact is in that blurring of lines between the functional and the non-functional… It’s an experiential installation that can help people live there morals a little more.
The textiles industry causes 10% of the planet’s carbon footprint and the dyeing and treatment of textiles is responsible for 17% of all industrial water pollution. I make all of the bed linens out of antique linen sheets which are died using natural dyes. We end up with something more durable, more beautiful and less costly to produce.
It’s not just about the environmental aspect, for me it’s about this deeply intimate experience of sleeping on something that has been made for you, from material older than you, older than your grandparents even one that touches your skin and taps into hundreds of histories before you.”
What’s on the horizon for Maison Salvadore?
“I am looking to diversify the use of the space, whilst stream lining the foccus a little more. I started to realise that there is this thing that happens to people when they stay, which is about something much more abstract to do with the environment and human’s relationship to it.
It’s something about being surrounded by noble materials, about working with the earth, and all of this happening in a village, which is surrounded by nature all around.
Ceramics, has always been a big part of the space, but I think it will now really be at the forefront of what we do.
I have been feeling the world of retreats out of cities is becoming a saturated one, where one has to search for integrity in the same way that we do in other areas of life. So I think that they will space more away from these kind of retreats, and look more at self-led residencies for both professional and non-professional artists, writers, makers and thinkers.
I recently read Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by MC Richards it’s an extraordinary book that articulates what I always felt, that working with clay – this ancient, innate material – has the ability to facilitate healing and development in a very natural and grounded way, to remind us who we are and where we came from with both humility and respect.”
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