Isabella Ducrot Says

In 2022, Quodlibet published Isabella Ducrot, Stoffe, a volume that brings together the extraordinary fabric collection of artist Isabella Ducrot (Naples, 1931). This collection includes two hundred and fifty-two textiles that Ducrot collected over the years, searched for them in markets, on trips, at antique shops, in department stores, on village stalls or by placing winning bids at auction, from South America to China and Japan, via France, Tunisia, Morocco, India, Pakistan, and Tibet, over a time span from the 9th to the 20th centuries. A kind of large map that traces the patterns of these textiles across centuries and geographies, offering a fascinating journey. 


Ducrot has for many years focused her paintings and writings on studying and pursuing her interest in the history of textiles.
Her research has always been guided by a fascination with specialized craftsmanship, the product of which is not considered a work of art in the conventional sense. 


A series of contributions follow the publication, including Isabella Ducrot says by Patrizia Cavalli, which reflects on the profound connection between the act of weaving and humanity. 


The text is also featured in the exhibition dedicated to Patrizia Cavalli Il sospetto del paradiso  (30 May 2024 – 25 August 2024), which brings together some of the publishing projects in which Cavalli collaborated with visual artists or presented art-related writings. They are essays for exhibition catalogs, poems or prose dedicated to artists or used by them as evocations, limited editions that take shape by juxtaposing words and artworks. They are all publications resulting from encounters and friendships.

Isabella Ducrot says she is a fabric collector. Well, let me tell you, she is no fabric collector. At least, she hasn’t been one for the past two or three years, when she started breaking up her own collection, taking beautiful pieces from it and recompos – ing them into new forms. Many of these compositions are gone: given away or sold. That alone is sufficient to spring her from the collector category. But if ever she were a collector, what type of collector would she have been? I’d wager that, at least for a short period of time, we have all started some tiny collection in a rush of random, childish fancy. This category of collectors – the majority – is caught up in a sudden, frenzied love a “air, just as quickly becoming bored or forgetting their inchoate, bolt-of-lightning collection and immediately starting another… or quitting forever. Amateurs, then. Now, for the true collector, when they’ve found what thing or things to collect, the true collector continues with perseverance and devotion, ’til death do them part. Such systematic and obsessive collecting has always aroused a kind of terror in me. Even if, on the surface, it seems like the expression of a wish to save as many objects of a certain type from ruination and dispersion as possible by bringing them together within a single, present space, in actual fact it seems to me to be a funereal exercise that, on the contrary, seems intent on reducing as many things as possible to the immobility of possession and cataloguing. Wielding the scalpel of specialization, an absolute collector ends up exhausting whatever thing he collects. Primarily concerned with accumulating the scatterings of time and space, it is a strange paradox that the collector’s desire to possess is, in its way, a kind of annihilation. This kind of collector gazes upon and admires the object he wishes to own until, finally, he owns it. When at last it is his, however, he no longer feels any need to look at it, because he now has it, along with the other things inside his realm. There is, to conclude, another species of collector who is lov – ingly aware of what he possesses and remains in its company: for him, ownership is specifically about being able to see, touch, smell… This form of collecting is a natural, almost inadvertent accretion of things that, over time, the collector has purchased and brought home. Which is the kind of collector Isabella Ducrot would have been. But why did she stop being one? Why didn’t she simply continue gazing upon her fabrics, showing them o ” to friends, learning about how they were made and where they come from, buy more of them to augment her collection and knowledge? Why was this no longer enough for her? Because, in my opinion, it was and is impossible. Because this kind of collecting, which claims to frequent and never neglect the objects on which it trains its continuous and tender focus, is in fact an impossibility. A collection – let’s call it that – of cloth, for example, is not so dissimilar from the strange collection of objects, disparate as they may be, that we accumulate in our homes. The first is voluntary, the second accidental, but they both have much in common. The objects concerned are usually useless, or at least have become useless after they were, for some reason, chosen or invited into our lives. We handle them for a spell, we gaze upon them, and then the house swallows them up until we forget they even exist. As it gradually sediments, this stuff starts to take up so much space we become aware of its entitled encroachment. We can neither use nor admire any of these things anymore. They have stealthily concealed the presence of time under the anonymous cloak of habit; nor, protected by the blackmail of their supposed memories, can we throw them out. They steal into our homes and there they stay, unmoving and immortal parasites, our only possible redress to stop looking at them. Untouchable and monstrous, they even outlive and outlast us. And if you do try to move them around, they instantly return to their staid immobility. This immobility, this vanishing from attention, becomes all the more dramatic when it comes to objects – or in this case fabrics – originally crafted to show themselves, to sheathe the bodies that wear them, to become stained or remain immaculate, to be worn out, destroyed, but in all cases used. What happens when such objects are turned into a collection? Because they were created to be used, this use removes them from use, trans !guring them in the process, heightening their aesthetic stature, preserving them as recipients of more or-less visible carnal traces.


People who collect and love such objects are certainly attracted by their hybrid nature, manifesting them as memories of physical time, as self-simulacra. No wonder people have ambiguous relationships with them, somewhere along the continuum between contemplation and nostalgia. But, especially when con !ned to champions of one’s own kind, any accumulation of objects tends to go unseen, to be locked away in untouchable immobility. I am of a mind that, no matter how long she spent contemplating her textiles one by one, no matter how deeply she studied, imagined and described them to others, put them away and pulled them out again, folding and unfolding them so many times that she may well have remembered them all, at some point Isabella Ducrot apprehended the danger of be – coming congealed, of succumbing to the addiction of possession. That was the moment she started making new homes for her textiles, encasing them in another kind of immobility, enduring one final trans !guration before, at long last, showing themselves alive outside the catalogue, reassembled in a secret kinship knowable only to a person who has long fre – quented them. Before this metamorphosis, when Isabella showed me her textiles and described their many beauties, I would remain indifferent; I might even feel revulsion at some enduring sweat, blood or food stain. Uninterested in such raw traces of life, I failed to understand why she was moved by touching a certain warp or weft. I must say, I still don’t get it. My indifference to weave, warp and selvedge lives on. When I look at swatches of fabric, at best I might be struck by the color or softness. And that’s at best. But when I saw Isabella Ducrot’s compositions, her distillation of bits of cloth great and small from her former collection, fabrics that had previously paraded in vainbefore my eyes now showed themselves to me, without manipulation or disguise, arranged simply as geometry… Chosen and arranged as if the choice of individual pieces contained its own arrangement, in practice rendering their physical composer a docile enabler. Which in a way she has been, because Isabella Ducrot has simply followed her own focus. Indeed, what marks out Isabella Ducrot’s tapestries, cloths and fragments (I could describe them in so many ways) is above all the illusion of a very delicate balance being struck between material that already exists in itself and the person who, welcoming its qualities, destines it for a form. She achieves an equilibrium that requires both sides of the equation not to be boisterous, to listen to one another so that, even if only one of them is actually playing, it sounds like a concertino. This illusory effect revealed to me that roughness, darning, transparency, stains and fraying are things that can only exist as they are, in that order and in that order alone, resurrected forever in the form of repose from indifference.  



Patrizia Cavalli, Isabella Ducrot dice di sé stessa, in Isabella Ducrot, Opere 1982-1985, exhibition catalog (Libreria Galleria Giulia, Rome, May-June 1985), Libreria Galleria Giulia, Rome 1985, pp. 3-5.