Cottagecore wasn’t a familiar term for me. I enlarged my vocabulary thanks to a group show named after the aesthetic, on at Sultana in Paris when I visited this week.
The word's unfamiliar but it describes a familiar aesthetic. One of city-dwelling young people, shut out of employment gainful enough to buy a cottage of their own, fetishising a pastoral, artisanal lifestyle. It’s characterised by floral motifs, embroidery, pastel colours and everything “cosy”.
It was a sunny early spring day in the city, and young potential Cottagecore devotees weren’t in the gallery, preferring to stretch out in the Parc de Belleville down the road: a tiny patch of arcadia in one of the densest urban districts on the continent. Inside the exhibition, the standout works were by French multidisciplinary artist Benoît Piéron, whose cosy pastel harlequin patterns are on display in a collection of cuddly vampire bats, with button eyes and darling little pointed ears. Looking closely though, the material is a little rough and worn, with mysterious words printed here and there. One stood out: SANTÉ (HEALTH). A look at the show notes confirmed they’re made of an unusual material: hospital sheets.
Quite far from the aspirational Cottagecore vibe, in other words. And while vampire bats might look cute, they don’t exactly have a wholesome reputation. (For Piéron, they’re his “spirit animal”.)
The inspiration behind the work comes from a scary, sad time for the artist. He had kidney cancer a few years ago, which necessitated a hospital stay and a serious operation. With a friend, he began putting together patchworks as a way of coping. “I re-enchanted the ‘white cube’ of my hospital room,” he told an interviewer.
The sheets don’t come direct from the hospital - instead, when they have been used and re-used in the hospital, they’re deep cleaned and re-sold at Leroy Merlin, a French homeware and garden centre chain, as cloths to clean the car with.
One day, Piéron was at a Leroy Merlin store, and the sheets’ colours and shapes caught his eye. They looked unfortunately familiar. “The colours are my heraldry.” Inspiration struck. To the artist, the patchworks “carry the voices of all the people who have used them,” and now they’ve been repurposed as cute little bats, on a plinth in a gallery, seen by a visiting stranger who’s never stepped inside a Leroy Merlin, let alone a French hospital.
What can I say? They caught my eye too. That’s a tribute to their maker.
Cottagecore is at Sultana (Paris). 04 February - 26 March 2022