In Residence: Wachtmeister Award Winner Anne Ferrer

"The day I arrived at VCCA I decided to make something that was happy and playful in reaction to the Paris attacks. I needed it. I was miserable,” says visual artist Anne Ferrer of the exuberant inflatable sculptural “garden” beginning to bloom in her studio, a commission for the Allentown Museum in Pennsylvania. Anne, who is French and lives in Paris, was in the city when the November 13 terrorist attacks occurred. That night, after tracking down her grown sons, she sheltered them and four stranded friends in her apartment. The winner of VCCA’s Wachtmeister Award, Anne managed to get herself on a plane the following Monday heading for the States to undertake her residency. 

Established in 2003, the Wachtmeister Award is endowed by VCCA Board Member Emerita Linda Wachtmeister and administered by the Fellows Council. It is presented bi-annually to a prominent writer, visual artist, or composer whose significant achievement in the arts is widely recognized and who has never been in residence at VCCA. Applicants must have worked professionally for at least 15 years and have demonstrated substantial achievements in their field, including a significant record of exhibition of their work. 

Anne says of the piece she is working on at VCCA: “I wanted to do something where there was happiness, but also anger and strength. Anger in a good way—something constructive and powerful. I decided to make flowers. I think flowers have that power to make people happy, but also to give them energy to say: Hey, I won’t give up. Let’s not be depressed because that’s what they want. Life goes on and we have to make the best of it.”

A week in and Anne has filled a quarter of VA7. But, “By the end of my stay, the studio will be like a jungle—completely covered,” she promises.

Anne begins by making shapes with fabric on the floor. Once she’s gotten the general idea figured out, she does drawings inspired by these shapes. “The drawing is very important because it starts to give me what I want.” Normally Anne uses ripstop, a heavy-duty nylon material used in sails. At home in Paris, she buys it at a fabric store. Because she was heading to Virginia, she had to order the fabric online relying on a color chart and fabric description. She was pleasantly surprised by what she ended up with: unusual shades of the hot pinks and reds she usually favors, and a nylon with much more suppleness than her customary one. “I opened my box and I got all these colors—colors I would normally not use. I never mix too many colors; it’s too much information.” That said, Anne is incorporating them in the Allentown piece to great effect.

“In France, people have been reluctant to show my work. They have not always taken it seriously. They used to see it as balloons, women’s craft, or birthday stuff—and why not, actually. Why not? I used to be upset because my work is art—when I’m in the studio, I process like an abstract painter, in gestures, colors, forms—but today I have no problem with that kind of criticism, maybe because I see how people react positively to the work, and museums are buying it.” The Telfair Museum (Savannah, GA) has just acquired one of her pieces.  

Thanks to the interest here, the French art world is now taking Anne's work more seriously. She attributes this also to the fact that established male artists like Anish Kapoor and Ernesto Neto have started using fabric and have made inflatable works. But Anne bristles when because of them, people say that her work is déjà vu, “It’s not déjà vu, I’ve been doing it for 20 years!” she exclaims.

The Telfair piece began its life as an installation at the Taubman Museum (Roanoke, VA) where it was suspended in the museum's dramatic atrium. Following that exhibition, the piece went to the Telfair where Anne adjusted the shape, elongating it so it would fit in its new space. With the museum’s acquisition of the sculpture, it will now reside there permanently.

Anne is delighted that a favorite spot for the weddings that are held in the museum is directly underneath the piece. Another unexpected boon is that Anne’s inflatables occupy so much space, utility bills are reduced by as much as 30%. That and the fact that when they are not filled with air the sculptures collapse into a small mass of lightweight nylon making them easily transported means that they are environmentally friendly artworks.  

About VCCA, Anne has nothing but praise. “I love this place so much. Oh my God, it’s so inspiring. I saw the space, I saw the light in my studio and I said: I've got to do something ambitious here. I’m having so much fun. It’s insane how much I’ve gotten done. I’ve been here seven, eight days… The really nice thing about being here at VCCA, is being around the other artists. I’ve had long talks with them, they came to an open studio I hosted. I have already started a collaboration with one of them (composer John Nichols), so my piece will literally breathe with his amazing sound. “

Anne’s playful approach is a welcome salve on the wounds inflicted by those who use terror to prey on innocents. Her pieces speak with joy and optimism about the indomitable mettle of the human spirit.


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